Appendectomy in Children: What to Expect at Home

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Your Child's Recovery

Appendicitis and location of appendix

Your child had an appendectomy. The doctor removed your child's appendix either through several small cuts, called incisions, in the belly (laparoscopic surgery) or through one large incision in the belly (open surgery). The incisions leave scars that usually fade with time.

After surgery, your child may feel weak and tired for several days after he or she returns home. Your child's belly may be swollen and painful. Your child may also feel sick to his or her stomach and have diarrhea, constipation, gas, or a headache. This usually goes away in a few days. Most children are back to many of their usual activities about a week after surgery.

Your child's body will work just fine without an appendix. You will not have to make any changes in your child's diet or lifestyle.

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?

Activity

  • Allow your child to slowly become more active. Have him or her rest as much as needed. Make sure your child gets enough sleep at night.
  • Your child should not ride a bike, play running games or contact sports, or take part in gym class until your doctor says it is okay. It is okay for your child to walk and play with other children or play with toys.
  • Until the doctor says it is okay, your child should avoid lifting anything that would make him or her strain. This may include heavy milk containers, a heavy backpack, or a medium-sized pet.
  • Your child may shower if the doctor says it is okay. Pat the incision dry after the shower. Do not let your child take a bath for the first 2 weeks, or until the doctor tells you it is okay. If your child has a drain coming out of the incision, follow the doctor's instructions about bathing.
  • Your child will probably be able to go back to school or most of his or her usual activities in 1 to 3 weeks.

Diet

  • Your child can eat his or her 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 to avoid becoming dehydrated.
  • You may notice a change in your child's bowel habits right after surgery. This is common. If your child has not had a bowel movement after a couple of days, call the doctor.

Medicines

  • Your doctor will tell you if and when your child can restart his or her medicines. The doctor will also give you instructions about your child taking any new medicines.
  • If your child's appendix ruptured, you will need to give him or her antibiotics. Give them as instructed. Do not stop using them just because your child feels better. Your child needs to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • Your child may need pain medicine for the first week. If the doctor prescribed medicine for severe pain, give it to your child as instructed.
  • If your child is not taking a prescription pain medicine, you can give him or her an over-the-counter medicine such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) for mild pain. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • Do not give your child two or more pain medicines at the same time unless the doctor told you to.
  • If your child feels sick to his or her stomach:
    • Do not give pain medicines on an empty stomach. Give your child pain medicines after meals or with a snack (unless the doctor has told you not to).
    • Ask the doctor for a different pain medicine if you think the one you have makes your child sick.
    • Talk to your child's doctor about trying a motion sickness medicine.

Incision care

  • If your child had an open surgery, the incision may be closed with surgical staples. The doctor will take these out in 7 to 10 days.
  • If your child has strips of tape on the incision, leave the tape on for a week or until it falls off.
  • Follow your doctor's instructions about cleaning the area around your child's incision.
  • Keep the area clean and dry.
  • If your child's appendix ruptured, he or she may have an incision with packing in it. Change the packing as often as your child's doctor tells you to.
    • Packing changes may hurt at first. Giving your child pain medicine about half an hour before you change the dressing can help.
    • If the dressing sticks to the wound, try soaking it with warm water for about 10 minutes before you remove it. You can do this by having your child take a shower or by placing a wet face cloth over the dressing.
    • Remove the old packing and rinse out the incision with water. Gently pat the top area dry.
    • The size of the incision is the guide for how much gauze you need to put inside. Fold the gauze over once, but do not wad it up so that it hurts. Put it in the wound carefully. You want to keep the sides of the wound from touching. A cotton swab may help you push in the gauze as needed.
    • Put a gauze pad over the wound, and tape it down.
    • You may notice greenish grey fluid seeping from the wound as it starts to heal. This is normal. It is a sign that the wound is healing.

Other instructions

  • If your child's appendix ruptured, he or she may have a tube that drains fluid from the incision. The doctor will tell you how to take care of it.

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 call line 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 trouble breathing.
  • Your child has sudden chest pain and shortness of breath or coughs up blood.
  • Your child has severe belly pain.

Call the doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child is sick to his or her stomach and cannot drink fluids.
  • Your child has pain that does not get better after he or she takes pain medicine.
  • Your child has loose stitches, or the incision comes open.
  • Bright red blood has soaked through the bandage over your child's incision.
  • Your child has signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the incision.
    • Pus draining from the incision.
    • A fever.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact the doctor if:

  • Your child had a laparoscopic surgery and has shoulder pain that lasts more than 24 hours.
  • Your child has leakage around the drain or has no new fluid in the drain for 24 hours.
  • The amount of drainage suddenly increases, or the colour and texture changes.
  • Your child does not have a bowel movement after taking a laxative.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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Current as of: August 9, 2016