Health Information and Tools > Patient Care Handouts >  Chest Tube Placement in Children: What to Expect at Home

Main Content

Chest Tube Placement in Children: What to Expect at Home

Your Child's Recovery

A chest tube is placed through the chest wall between two ribs. A chest tube may be used to drain away fluid, blood, or air from the chest. Your child may have some pain in the chest from the cut (incision) where the tube was put in. For most people, the pain goes away after about 2 weeks. Your child will have a bandage taped over the wound. The doctor will remove the bandage and examine the wound in about 2 days.

It will take about 3 to 4 weeks for your child's incision to heal completely. It may leave a small scar that will fade with time.

This care sheet gives you a general idea about how long it will take for your child to recover. But each child recovers at a different pace. Follow the steps below to help your child get better as quickly as possible.

How can you care for your child at home?


  • Have your child rest when they feel tired. Getting enough sleep will help your child recover.
  • Encourage your child to walk each day. Your child can start by walking a little more than the day before. Bit by bit, help your child increase the amount they walk. Walking boosts blood flow and helps prevent pneumonia and constipation.
  • Your child should not ride a bike, play running games, or take part in gym class until the doctor says it is okay.
  • How soon your child can return to a normal routine depends on what health problems your child has. Talk with your doctor about how long it will take your child to recover.
  • Your child may shower after the bandage is removed. Pat the cut (incision) dry. Do not let your child take a bath for 2 weeks after the chest tube is out, or until your doctor tells you it is okay.
  • Help your child practice deep breathing exercises as directed by your doctor. Coughing exercises also can help drain fluid out of the chest.


  • Your child can eat a normal diet. If your child's stomach is upset, try bland, low-fat foods like plain rice, broiled chicken, toast, and yogurt.
  • Have your child drink plenty of fluids (unless the doctor says not to).


  • Your doctor will tell you if and when your child can restart any medicines. The doctor will also give you instructions about your child taking any new medicines.
  • Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • If your child is not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask the doctor if your child can take an over-the-counter medicine.
    • If the doctor gave your child a prescription medicine for pain, give it as prescribed.
    • Store your child's prescription pain medicines where no one else can get to them. When you are done using them, dispose of them quickly and safely. Your local pharmacy or hospital may have a drop-off site.
  • Give antibiotics as directed. Do not stop using them just because your child feels better. Your child needs to take the full course of antibiotics.

Incision care

  • Keep the incision dry as it heals. Your child will have a bandage over the incision to help it heal and to protect it. The doctor will tell you how to take care of this.

Other instructions

  • Keep your child away from smoke. Do not smoke or let anyone else smoke around your child or in your house. Smoking makes lung problems worse.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think your child may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • Your child passes out (loses consciousness).
  • Your child has severe chest pain, or chest pain is quickly getting worse.
  • Your child has severe trouble breathing.
  • Your child has sudden chest pain and shortness of breath, or coughs up blood.

Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child continues to have trouble breathing.
  • Your child's shortness of breath is getting worse.
  • Bright red blood soaks through the bandage over the incision.
  • The chest tube comes out or is bent or blocked.
  • Your child has symptoms of infection where the tube was put in, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the area.
    • Pus draining from the area.
    • A fever.

Watch closely for any changes in your child's health, and be sure to call the doctor or nurse advice line if:

  • Your child does not get better as expected.

Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.