A tracheotomy is a surgical procedure that creates an opening in your neck and windpipe (trachea). A tube is then placed in the opening to keep it open. The procedure makes another way for air to get to your lungs.
The terms tracheotomy, tracheostomy, and trach may be used to refer to both the surgical procedure and to the opening created by the procedure.
A tracheotomy may be done when you have a problem with your airway and you are not getting enough air to your lungs. If the upper airway is blocked, a tracheotomy can bypass the blockage to provide airflow to your lungs. It is also used to provide oxygen to the lungs more efficiently and to clear secretions from the airway.
Examples of when you might need a tracheotomy are:
A tracheotomy is usually done in an operating room or in an intensive care unit. Your heart rate and oxygen levels are monitored during the procedure.
First you are given an anesthetic. The anesthetic should keep you from feeling pain during the procedure. Then the surgeon makes a cut (incision) in your neck and trachea in the area of the neck below the larynx (Adam's apple or voice box). A tube is placed in the opening. (The opening is called a stoma, or tracheostomy.) The tube is held in place with a band or laces around the neck.
The tracheotomy site will begin to heal and your surgeon will monitor you for a few days. The original tube is usually kept in place for 5 to 10 days. After that a new tube may be used.
If you are on a ventilator, the tube will have a balloon around it that prevents air from leaking. In this case you will not be able to talk. If you do not need a ventilator, a smaller tube may be used that allows air to pass around it. In this case you may be able to talk.
A tracheostomy may be temporary or permanent. If you no longer need it, your surgeon will remove the tube and allow the opening to close on its own. If it does not close in 4 to 6 months, it may be closed with surgery.
You will be able to get oxygen to your lungs and exhale carbon dioxide more efficiently. The procedure may save your life.
Problems that a tracheotomy may cause are:
If you still have the tracheotomy when you go home from the hospital, you or your family will be taught how to care for the tracheotomy. This will include cleaning the trach site, suctioning, and changing the tube.
You may have an inner cannula (tube) that fits into the outer tube of the tracheotomy. This inner tube helps keep secretions such as mucus out of the tracheotomy so your breathing isn't blocked. You need to clean this tube at least once a day. The basic steps for cleaning the tube are:
Call 911 or your provider right away if:
Call during office hours if: