What is a tracheostomy?
A tracheostomy is an opening in the lower
neck that goes into the trachea. The trachea
or “windpipe” is the tube that leads into your
lungs. A doctor will make this opening
during a brief surgery. The doctor places a
small plastic hollow tube called a
tracheostomy tube or “trach” tube in the
opening (stoma). When a person breathes
through a trach tube, the air then moves into
the trachea and lungs, instead of the nose
Why is a tracheostomy done?
A trach is usually done for one of five
if the airway above the trachea is
blocked or damaged
if there are frequent or large amounts
of mucous that need to be removed
from your lungs
if your lungs need a safer and easier
way to get oxygen
if there has been long term use of a
breathing tube in the mouth,
to make it easier to get off the
If there has been a mouth breathing tube in
for a long time, a trach can provide you with
more comfort. The head and neck can move
more freely. It will be easier to keep your
mouth clean and moist. It will also be easier
to communicate with a trach tube than with
a mouth tube. It is easier to keep in place
than a mouth tube, therefore your breathing
and airway will be more secure.
How is a trach cared for?
The trach tube put in during surgery will be
changed to a new tube 4 to 10 days later.
After that the tube will be changed when
The nurses will clean around the opening
(stoma) 2-3 times a day to prevent infection.
People that have a trach need extra moisture
in their lungs to keep the mucous in the
lungs moist and thin. If the mucous
becomes too thick it can block off the trach
tube and cause breathing problems. A small
mask placed over the trach can give mist to
help with this. The nurses will also suction
through the trach tube to remove extra
mucous when you need it.
Will I be able to communicate?
If you have a cuffed trach tube (see picture
on next page), you may not be able to speak
at all. This is because the cuff allows very
little air to flow around the trach to the vocal
cords. We will work with you to learn other
ways to communicate such as picture boards
or writing boards. Health care workers and
your family also become very good at lip
The tube will remain in as long as you need
it for breathing help. Once the doctors are
able to put in a smaller tube, you may be
able to speak. If the trach is no longer
needed it can be removed and the hole will
heal into a very small scar. When the trach
is removed your voice will return if your
vocal cords are working normally.
Cuffed trach tube - “Cuffed” tubes have a
small balloon-like band (cuff) attached to
the cannula or tube. The cuff is inflated so
that the cuff has a snug fit in the airway.
This helps to prevent food or fluid from
entering the lungs. It can also help the
breathing machine (ventilator) give stronger
breaths since air can’t leak around the trach
Please talk with your doctor before surgery
for more information about tracheostomies
including any risks and complications.
Your health care team may have given you this information as part of your care. If so, please use it and call if you
have any questions. If this information was not given to you as part of your care, please check with your doctor. This
is not medical advice. This is not to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Because each
person’s health needs are different, you should talk with your doctor or others on your health care team when using
this information. If you have an emergency, please call 911. Copyright ©2/2017 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and
Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#5970