Frequently Asked Questions about Ommaya Reservoirs and Ommaya Taps for Pediatric Patients

This information answers some commonly asked questions about Ommaya reservoirs and Ommaya taps. In this resource, the words “you” and “your” refer to you or your child.

Ommaya Reservoirs

What is an Ommaya reservoir?

An Ommaya reservoir is a quarter-sized, soft, plastic, dome-shaped device that is placed under the scalp. The reservoir is connected to a catheter (thin, flexible tube) that is placed through your brain, in one of your ventricles (see Figures 1 and 2).

Figure 1. Ommaya reservoir
Figure 2. Placement of the Ommaya reservoir

Why do I need an Ommaya reservoir?

An Ommaya reservoir will help your doctor or nurse practitioner:

  • Get samples of your cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). CSF is the fluid that surrounds your brain and spinal cord. It is made in your ventricles. Your doctor or nurse practitioner can check your CSF for cancer cells or infections.
  • Give you medication, such as chemotherapy, monoclonal antibodies, or antibiotics directly into your CSF.

These procedures are referred to as an “Ommaya reservoir tap.” You may need fewer spinal taps, if you have an Ommaya reservoir.

How is an Ommaya reservoir placed?

You will need to have surgery to place your Ommaya reservoir. Please ask your nurse for the resource About Your Ommaya Reservoir Placement Surgery for Pediatric Patients.

Can the Ommaya reservoir be removed?

The reservoir is usually not removed unless you have complications with it.

Are there restrictions on my activities with an Ommaya reservoir?

You will not be able to participate in gym class or play contact sports (i.e., football, boxing, wrestling) for at least 2 weeks after your Ommaya reservoir is placed. Some people may need to wait 6 weeks or longer. This gives time for your scar tissue to heal. Talk with your doctor about how long you need to wait.

When your doctor tells you that you can participate in gym class and play contact sports, remember to wear a helmet, if needed. This reduces your risk of getting a head injury.

How do I care for my Ommaya reservoir?

Your Ommaya reservoir does not need special care. You can wash your hair as usual.

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Ommaya Reservoir Tap

Do I need to do anything to prepare for my Ommaya reservoir tap?

Tell your doctor or nurse practitioner if you are allergic to iodine (Betadine®). He or she will use a different solution.

Most people will not need to do anything else to prepare. You can eat and take any medication as usual.

Some people may have another scan or procedure after the tap. If you will be getting anesthesia, follow the directions that your doctor or nurse practitioner gave you about eating, drinking, and taking medications.

What happens during the tap?

Your doctor or nurse practitioner will perform your tap in an exam room or at your bedside.

Figure 3. During an Ommaya tap
  1. Your doctor or nurse practitioner will gently feel the Ommaya reservoir. He or she will push down on it several times to pump it. This pulls the CSF into the reservoir.
  2. You may be asked to lie on your back. Your doctor or nurse practitioner will clean your skin with Betadine or a different solution if you are allergic.
  3. Your doctor or nurse practitioner will insert a small needle with tubing attached to it into your reservoir (see Figure 3). You might feel slight discomfort from the needlestick. Your doctor or nurse practitioner will take out a small amount of CSF through a syringe that is attached to the tubing. The CSF may be sent to the lab to check for cancer cells or infection. Some of the CSF will be saved in a syringe and may be used as a “flush” (see step 4).
  4. If you are getting medication during the tap, your doctor or nurse practitioner will inject it slowly into your reservoir, after withdrawing the CSF. He or she will then flush your Ommaya reservoir with the saved CSF to push the medication.
  5. The needle is then removed and gentle pressure is applied with gauze for about one minute to prevent leakage of CSF. The area may then be covered with a bandage (Band-Aid®).

How long does the tap take?

The tap usually takes about 15 minutes.

When can I resume my normal activities?

You can resume all your normal activities after your tap, including washing your hair. Your Ommaya reservoir will not need any special care.

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Call Your Doctor or Nurse Practitioner if You Have:

  • Tenderness, redness, or swelling around your reservoir
  • Clear, bloody, or pus-like discharge from your reservoir
  • A temperature of 100.4º F (38ºC) or higher
  • Headaches
  • Vomiting
  • Neck stiffness
  • Blurry vision
  • Confusion
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