Tracheostomy Tube or Stoma: Your New Airway

Cross section of head and airway showing cuffed tracheal and pilot tube.If your surgeon has given you a new airway during surgery, it may be in place only a short time while you heal. Or if your larynx has been removed, you’ll continue breathing through this new airway. In either case, your healthcare team will help you adjust.

If you have a tracheostomy tube

Your tracheostomy (trach) tube has been chosen to fit well and work right for you. You’ll learn how to keep it clean and clear. Often, a trach tube is needed only a short time. Your surgeon will tell you how long to use the tube. If you don’t need a new airway after surgery, the hole in the front of your throat will close on its own after the trach tube has been removed. You will have a dressing over the site while it heals. In some cases, surgery is needed to close the hole.

If you have a stoma

If your larynx was removed during surgery, you’ll continue to breathe through the hole in your throat. This hole is called a stoma or permanent tracheostomy. It's important that you and those who care for you know that this is your only airway. In a medical emergency, healthcare providers won't be able to put in a breathing tube through your nose or mouth. You’ll be shown how to care for your stoma. Support groups can help you adjust to having a new airway. And you can return to work, family life, and many of the activities you enjoyed before surgery.

When to call your healthcare provider

Call your healthcare provider right away if you have any of these problems:

  • A red, painful, or bleeding stoma

  • Yellow, smelly, bloody, or thick mucus around or inside your stoma

  • Pain while cleaning your airway

  • Swelling near the trach tube or stoma

  • Difficulty breathing, wheezing, or persistent cough