What Is a Tracheostomy?

Cross section of head and airway showing cuffed tracheal and pilot tube.A tracheostomy (tray-kee-AHS-toe-mee) gives you a new pathway for air to go into and out of your lungs. To create this pathway, you need surgery to make a small opening in your neck. A tracheostomy tube (also called a “trach tube”) is then placed into this opening. Air flows into and out of your lungs through the tube.

Reasons for a tracheostomy

Some of the reasons that a tracheostomy may be needed include:

  • Swelling of the throat that blocks the airway (such as from an allergic reaction)

  • Damage to the throat (such as a burn)

  • An object or growth that blocks the throat or trachea

  • Respiratory failure and the need for extra oxygen, such as with severe emphysema

  • Problems breathing during sleep (sleep apnea)

  • Paralysis of the abdomen, chest, neck, or throat that affects breathing

  • Surgery on the larynx

  • Cancer in or near the trachea

  • Need for long-term ventilation

How a tracheostomy works

Surgery is done to make a small opening through the front of your neck into your trachea. This opening is called a stoma. A short tube (trach tube) is placed into the stoma. One end of the trach tube rests outside of your neck. The other end rests inside your trachea. When you breathe in, air flows through the trach tube into your trachea and to the lungs. When you breathe out, air flows back out of the trach tube. Some people need the new airway for only a short time. Others may need it for good. Your healthcare provider or surgeon will discuss your needs with you.

Questions and answers

Q: Will I be able to speak with a tracheostomy?

A: Yes. Most tracheostomies can be fitted with a speaking valve. You may also be able to speak by closing off your tracheostomy intermittently and briefly with your finger.

Q: Will I be able to eat normally with a tracheostomy?

A: Yes. Most patients can eat normally, but some precautions are needed.

Q: How long will it take for my opening to heal once the tracheostomy tube is removed?

A: In most cases, healing only takes a few days.