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Caring for my Cannula

This patient guide answers some commonly asked questions about your cannula.

What is a cannula and where will the cannula be put?

  • An intravenous cannula is a small plastic tube which is inserted into a vein. A cannula is most commonly inserted into your hand or arm.
  • A cannula is used to allow medication or fluid to be given directly into a vein.

Are there any alternatives to a cannula?

You may discuss possible alternatives with the staff that are looking after you. However, some treatments can only be given through a cannula.

How will the cannula be put in?

A trained staff member will follow a number of steps when inserting your cannula. These steps include:

  • Washing their hands and wearing gloves.
  • Cleaning your skin with antiseptic where the cannula is to be inserted.
  • Using sterile equipment.

Is a cannula insertion painful?

  • The cannula is inserted into the vein using a fine needle.
  • You may feel a sharp sting as the needle goes in.
  • This pain should pass very quickly once the cannula is in place.

Can the cannula fall out?

  • The cannula will be well with a see-through dressing.  There is usually no need for the cannula to be bandaged.
  • A cannula may fall out if the dressing becomes loose.
  • Please inform staff if the dressing becomes loose.

Are there any risks?

  • There is a risk of infection with any procedure that punctures the skin.
  • A cannula can sometimes cause irritation of the vein.
  • Difficult or unsuccessful insertions can cause bruising, clots, cannula dislodgment or delay treatment.

How will staff care for my cannula?

Ongoing care of your cannula is important to prevent infection. Therefore it is necessary that:

  • Hands are cleaned with soap and water or alcohol hand rub before and after touching the cannula and attached ‘lines’
  • The cannula is checked routinely for signs of irritation, infection or blockage.
  • The dressing is kept clean and intact.
  • To reduce the risk of complications, the dressing should be marked with the date that it is inserted. The insertion of the cannula should be documented in your file.

How can I help in the care of my cannula?

  • Try not to touch the cannula or play with the coloured cap.
  • Keep the dressing and cannula clean and dry.
  • Protect the cannula from knocks or from being pulled.
  • Wash your hands after going to the toilet.
  • Tell the nurse, midwife or doctor if you: Experience pain, feel hot, cold or shivery, see redness, leaking or swelling around the insertion or connections.
  • Tell the nurses if you feel something is wrong with your cannula or if you think the cannula is not needed anymore.
  • The dressing is waterproof; however, we recommend that you try to avoid soaking the cannula. After showering or washing carefully pat the cannula site dry
  • Do not be afraid to remind staff to clean their hands before touching your cannula if they have forgotten.

When will the cannula be removed?

  • In adults a cannula will normally be removed when no longer needed. The cannula may be removed earlier if a problem occurs.
  • When the cannula has been taken out, the place where it has been may feel slightly bruised. This sensation can last for up to one week and is quite normal. The dressing which is put over the site after removal can usually be taken off within a couple of hours.
  • If there is any swelling, pain, redness or discharge from the site after removal, please tell your nurse or your local GP.
  • A cannula is normally removed before you are discharged from the hospital.
  • You may be discharged from hospital with a cannula if treatment is to continue at home. A community nurse will then monitor your cannula.

What to do if there is a problem with the cannula at home

  • If the cannula comes out, there is no need to worry. There may be bleeding from the site:
    • do not attempt to reinsert the cannula.
    • apply firm pressure over the site using a clean cloth or kitchen towel, elevating the arm.
    • if you are on blood thinning medication (Warfarin, Aspirin or antiplatelet medication) it may take longer for the bleeding to stop and you may have to apply pressure longer for the bleeding to stop or apply a small waterproof plaster to the site.
    • Put the cannula in a plastic bag then dispose of it in your own home rubbish
    • If the bleeding does not stop please contact one of the following
    • services:

      • Your community nursing team or GP
      • Out-of-hours GP Service: 111
      • In severe cases please call 999

For further information please contact the Patient Advice and Liaison Service who can signpost you appropriately.

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