Tracheotomy is the surgical creation of an opening from the outside of the neck into the windpipe. A tube is inserted into the opening to allow for normal breathing.
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A tracheotomy is done to bypass obstructions that are interfering with breathing. The opening is called a stoma or tracheostomy. A stoma may be either temporary or permanent.
A tracheotomy is done to restore normal breathing in the following situations:
The airway is obstructed at or above the level of the larynx, which is also known as the voice box, due to:
to the neck area
Obstructing tumors in the upper airwayVocal cord paralysisRemoval of larynx for throat cancer—laryngectomy
Respiratory failure requiring long-term mechanical breathing assistance, as in these cases:
Spinal cord injury in the neck areaSevere lung infection or inflammationIf you have been on a ventilator for 21 daysInjury to the respiratory tract due to breathing in smoke or steam or inhaling corrosive substancesBirth defects of the trachea or larynxForeign object blocking the trachea or larynx
If you are planning to have a tracheotomy, your doctor will review a list of possible complications, which may include: BleedingInfectionDamage to the vocal cords, vocal cord nerves, or esophagusDamage to the lungsDifficulty swallowingAir trapped in tissue under the skin of the neckLow blood pressureTracheostomy tube displacement or damageScarring at the site of operation leading to closure of the tracheostomy or tracheal narrowingAbnormal connection to esophagus or surrounding blood vessels
Some factors that may increase the risk of complications include: Age: infants and elderly adultsObesitySmokingPoor nutritionRecent illness, especially an upper-respiratory infectionAlcohol use disorderLong-term illnessesUse of certain prescription and nonprescription drugs
Your doctor will likely do the following: Chest x-rayBlood and urine testsReview of medications
Talk to your doctor about your medications. You may be asked to stop taking some medications up to one week before the procedure.
anesthesia will be used. You will be asleep. In emergency situations, local anesthesia may be used. It will numb the area.
A cut will be made in the skin of the neck. A section at the front of the windpipe will be removed. A tracheostomy tube, which will act as the airway, will then be fitted into this opening in the windpipe. The skin will be closed around the tube with stitches or clips.
You will breathe through this tube as long as it is in place. Oxygen and machines to assist breathing will be provided, if needed. A chest x-ray may be needed.
Anesthesia prevents pain during the procedure. You may have some pain and soreness during recovery. Your doctor can prescribe pain medication to help relieve this discomfort.
The length of stay will depend on the reason for the procedure. Most stays are 1-5 days.
Tracheostomy tubes need to be cared for on a regular basis. The hospital staff will teach you how to care for your tracheostomy tube. It is important follow the staff’s instructions to prevent infection and airway obstruction. Other specialists will help you adjust to the tracheotomy and learn how to speak and eat with the tracheostomy.
Tracheostomy tube care considerations include: Regular cleaningRegular clearing of secretionsKeeping the airway openHow to use oxygen or a humidifier (if needed)Learning to keep away from irritants that affect the airwaySpeaking and eating techniquesLearning cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)Knowing when to call for emergency medical services
It is important for you to monitor your recovery after you leave the hospital. Alert your doctor to any problems right away. If any of the following occur, call your doctor: Signs of infection, including cough, excessive foul-smelling mucous, fever, and chillsRedness, swelling, increasing pain, excessive bleeding, or any discharge from the incision sitePersistent nausea or vomitingPain that you cannot control with the medications you were givenCough, shortness of breath, or chest painNew, unexplained symptoms
Call for emergency medical services right away if: Your tracheostomy tube falls out and you cannot replace itYou are having difficulty breathing through your tube
If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.
Caring for your tracheotomy. University of Miami Health System website. Available at:
http://calder.med.miami.edu/pointis/traccare.html. Accessed August 5, 2015.
Frequently asked questions about tracheotomy and swallowing. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association website. Available at:
http://www.asha.org/slp/clinical/frequently-asked-questions-on-tracheotomy-and-swallowing. Accessed August 5, 2015.
What is a tracheostomy? Johns Hopkins Medicine website. Available at:
http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/tracheostomy/about/what.html. Accessed August 5, 2015.
Last reviewed September 2016 by Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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