What is chest tube procedures?

Chest Tube Procedures

How can you care for yourself after a chest tube removal?


  • Rest when you feel tired. Getting enough sleep will help you recover.
  • Try to walk each day. Start by walking a little more than you did the day before. Bit by bit, increase the amount you walk. Walking boosts blood flow and helps prevent pneumonia and constipation.
  • Avoid strenuous activities, such as bicycle riding, jogging, weight lifting, or aerobic exercise, until your doctor says it is okay.
  • How soon you can return to work or your normal routine depends on what health problems you have. Talk with your doctor about how long it will take you to recover.
  • You may shower after your bandage is removed. Pat the cut (incision) dry. Do not take a bath for 2 weeks after your chest tube is out, or until your doctor tells you it is okay.
  • Practice deep breathing exercises as directed by your doctor. Coughing exercises also can help drain fluid out of your chest.


  • You can eat your normal diet. If your stomach is upset, try bland, low-fat foods like plain rice, broiled chicken, toast, and yogurt.
  • Drink plenty of fluids (unless your doctor tells you not to).


  • Your doctor will tell you if and when you can restart your medicines. You will also get instructions about taking any new medicines.
  • If you stopped taking aspirin or some other blood thinner, your doctor will tell you when to start taking it again.
  • Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
    • Store your 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.
  • Take your antibiotics as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.

Incision care

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

Other instructions

  • Do not smoke. Smoking makes lung problems worse. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.

Chest tube placement in children: When to call

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 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 if:

  • Your child does not get better as expected.

What can you expect as you recover from a chest tube removal?

When the tube is removed, the doctor or nurse will tape a bandage over the incision. It will take about 3 to 4 weeks for the cut to heal completely. It may leave a small scar that will fade with time.

You may have some pain in your chest from where the tube was. For most people, the pain goes away after about 2 weeks. If your doctor prescribed pain medicine, take it as prescribed. If you aren't taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the counter medicine, as needed.

Your doctor may want you to have a follow-up X-ray to make sure that fluid, blood, or air hasn't built up again in the space around your lungs.

After a chest tube removal: Overview

A chest tube is placed through the chest wall between two ribs. You may have had a chest tube put in to help your collapsed lung expand. Or the tube may have helped drain fluid from a chest infection or surgery.

The tube was removed before you came home. You may have some pain in your chest from the cut (incision) where the tube was put in. For most people, the pain goes away after about 2 weeks. You will have a bandage taped over the wound. Your doctor will remove the bandage and examine the wound in about 2 days.

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

How is a chest tube inserted?

Putting in a chest tube is considered minor surgery, and it may be done while you're awake. You may be in the hospital or an outpatient clinic when the tube is inserted. You may get medicine that relaxes you or puts you in a light sleep. The area being worked on will be numb. The doctor will make a small cut, called an incision, between two of your ribs. The doctor will put the tube through the incision and into the space around your lungs.

The tube will stay in your chest until all or most of the fluid, blood, or air drains out. This may take a few days. Your doctor may attach the tube to a machine that can help the space around your lungs drain better.

While the tube is in your chest, you won't be able to be very active. Your doctor may want you to stay in the hospital to get help with your chest tube, or you may be able to care for it at home.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.