A tracheostomy is an opening created at the front of the neck so a tubecan be inserted into the windpipe (trachea) to help you breathe.

If necessary, the tube can be connected to an oxygen supply and a breathing machine called a ventilator.

The tube can also be used to remove any fluid that's builtup in the throat and windpipe.

This page covers:


How it's carried out

Living with a tracheostomy

Risks and complications

Why a tracheostomy is used

A tracheostomy may be carried out to:

  • deliver oxygen to the lungs if you're unable to breathe normally after an injury or accident, or because your muscles are very weak
  • allowyou to breathe if your throat isblocked for example, by aswelling, tumour or something stuck in the throat
  • reduce the risk of food or fluid entering the lungs (aspiration) if you find coughing difficult

In many cases,a tracheostomy will be planned in advance and carried out in hospital, although sometimes it may need to be done in an emergency outside of hospital, such as at the scene of an accident.

A dressing will be placed around the opening in your neck and tape or stitches will be used to hold the tube in place.

If you're unable to breathe unaided, the tracheostomy tube can be attached to amachine that supplies oxygen to assist with breathing (ventilator) to increase the flow of oxygen to your lungs.

Specialist equipment can also be used to warm and moisten (humidify) the air breathed in.

In an emergency, the tracheostomy will be carried out as soon as possible usinga local anaesthetic if there isn't enough time to use a general anaesthetic.

This means you'll be conscious during the procedure, but shouldn't feel severe pain.

After having a tracheostomy, you'll need to stay in hospital for at least a few days or weeks. In some cases, it may be possible to remove the tube and close the opening before you leave hospital.

However, the tube may need to stay in permanentlyif you have a long-term condition that affects your breathing.

Living with a tracheostomy

It's possible to enjoy a good quality of life with a permanent tracheostomy tube, butit can take some time to adapt.

Most people will initially have difficulty talking, eating, exercising, and keeping the tracheostomy tube clean and free of blockages.

If you need a tracheostomy, a specially trained therapist can give you advice and answer any questions you have.

They'll make sure you feel confident about looking after the tracheostomy before you leave hospital.

But, as with all medical procedures, there's a small risk of complications, including bleeding, infection, and breathing difficulties.


Content supplied by the NHS Website

Medically Reviewed by a doctor on 18 Jan 2017