A tracheostomy is surgery to help you breathe when something is making it difficult or impossible to breathe. For example, it may be done if you have throat cancer, a lung or nerve problem, trouble handling secretions,or something blocking your airway.
The terms tracheostomy, tracheotomy, and "trach" (say "trayk") are all used to talk about the surgery itself and the opening created by the surgery. The opening is also called a stoma.
The doctor makes a small cut (incision) to create an opening in your neck. Then the doctor puts a breathing tube through the opening and into your windpipe (trachea). This tube is called a tracheostomy or trach tube. It makes it easier for air to get to your lungs. It also helps remove mucus and other fluids from your lungs.
After the trach tube is put in, the opening may be made smaller around the tube with stitches or clips. If you no longer need the tube, the doctor will take it out. You will have a small scar on your neck that fades over time.
You may get medicine so you will be asleep during the surgery. Or you may be awake, but you will get medicine so you don't feel pain.
You will stay in the hospital until it is safe to go home. In some cases, the trach tube can be taken out before you go home. If not, you will need to go home with the trach tube. If you go home with a trach tube, your doctor will teach you how to take care of it.
After surgery, it will feel different to breathe and speak. Most people get used to breathing through the tube in a few days. At first, it will be hard to make sounds or to speak. Your doctor or a speech therapist can help you learn to talk. This is done by closing the tube with your finger or by adding a special one-way valve to the trach tube.
Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.
Surgery can be stressful. This information will help you understand what you can expect. And it will help you safely prepare for surgery.
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Current as of: May 12, 2017
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
& Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Elizabeth T. Russo, MD - Internal Medicine & A. Evan Eyler, MD, MPH - Family Medicine, Psychiatry
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