This article is part 1 of a series of informational articles for tracheostomies.
A tracheostomy is an opening made in the front of the neck via a surgical incision 1. This hole extends into the trachea, known more commonly as the “windpipe,” and is used to aid breathing by creating an alternative passage for airflow. Tracheostomies also make it easier to remove mucus and other secretions which may clog the airway and make it difficult to breathe.
This opening in the neck, sometimes called a “stoma,” provides a passage for a tracheostomy tube to be inserted. This tube is then secured with a tie 2. The tube itself keeps the opening in the neck and trachea clear, improving the ease of breathing by introducing air directly into the lungs.
Reasons for a Tracheostomy
A tracheostomy may be considered for those who have trouble breathing due to: 3
- An obstruction in the throat caused by injury, swelling, a mass like a tumour, or anything else stuck in the throat which prevents sufficient breathing
- Paralysis or weakness which makes it difficult to breathe
- Conditions that affect a person’s ability to cough or rid their airway of mucus
Tracheostomies are also considered when an individual requires assistance breathing via a ventilator for more than a week or two.
Possible Risks and Complications
While tracheostomies are usually safe and effective, some risks and complications may arise in rare cases 4. Prior to performing a tracheostomy, a physician will review these risks individually with the person receiving a tracheostomy under their care.
Some of the complications which may occur during a tracheostomy are:
- Damage to the trachea or oesophagus
- Abnormal collections of air beneath the skin or outside of the lungs
Those with long-term or permanent tracheostomies may experience:
- Increased likelihood of illnesses like pneumonia due to bacteria colonising the stoma, tracheostomy tube, and surrounding area
Keeping the tracheostomy clean and caring for it properly will greatly diminish the chances of infection and bacterial colonisation.
Life with a Tracheostomy
Individuals with temporary, long-term, or permanent tracheostomies are sometimes concerned about how a tracheostomy will affect their ability to eat and speak. Others worry about how a tracheostomy will affect their physical appearance.
While every person with a tracheostomy is different, it is often possible to speak, eat, and live normally with a tracheostomy 5. Physicians, nurses, and speech therapists are the best resources for assistance during the adjustment period.