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Tracheostomy

Definition

A tracheostomy is a surgical procedure to create an opening through the neck into the trachea (windpipe). A tube is usually placed through this opening to provide an airway and to remove secretions from the lungs. This tube is called a tracheostomy tube or trach tube.

Description

General anesthesia is used. The neck is cleaned and draped. Surgical cuts are made to expose the tough cartilage rings that make up the outer wall of the trachea. The surgeon then creates an opening into the trachea and inserts a tracheostomy tube.

Why the Procedure Is Performed

A tracheostomy may be done if you have:

  • A large object blocking the airway
  • An inherited abnormality of the larynx or trachea
  • Breathed in harmful material such as smoke, steam, or other toxic gases
  • Cancer of the neck, which can affect breathing
  • Breathed in harmful material such as smoke or steam
  • Paralysis of the muscles that affect swallowing
  • Severe neck or mouth injuries
  • When you can't breathe on your own

Risks

The risks for any anesthesia are:

  • Problems breathing
  • Reactions to medications

The risks for any surgery are:

  • Bleeding
  • Infection

Additional risks include:

  • Erosion of the trachea (rare)
  • Nerve damage
  • Scar tissue in the trachea

After the Procedure

If the tracheostomy is temporary, the tube will eventually be removed. Healing will occur quickly, leaving a minimal scar.

Occasionally a stricture, or tightening, of the trachea may develop, which may affect breathing.

If the tracheostomy tube is permanent, the hole remains open and may require surgical closure when no longer needed.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Most patients require 1 to 3 days to adapt to breathing through a tracheostomy tube. It will take some time to learn how to communicate with others. Initially, it may be impossible for the patient to talk or make sounds.

After training and practice, most patients can learn to talk with a tracheostomy tube. Patients or family members learn how to take care of the tracheostomy during the hospital stay. Home-care service may also be available.

Normal lifestyles are encouraged and most activities can be resumed. When outside, a loose covering (a scarf or other protection) for the tracheostomy stoma (hole) is recommended. Patients must adhere to other safety precautions regarding exposure to water, aerosols, powder, or food particles as well.

References

Goldenberg D, Bhatti N. Management of the impaired airway in the adult. In: Cummings CW, Flint PW, Haughey BH, et al, eds. Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 4th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2005:chap 106.


Review Date: 1/16/2009
Reviewed By: A.D.A.M. Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, and David R. Eltz. Jacob L. Heller, MD, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington, Clinic (1/16/2009).
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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