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Tracheostomy: Before Your Surgery

What is a tracheostomy?

A tracheostomy is surgery to help you breathe when something is making it hard 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.

After the trach tube is put in, the opening may be made smaller around the tube with stitches or clips.

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's 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.

How do you prepare for surgery?

Surgery can be stressful. This information will help you understand what you can expect. And it will help you safely prepare for surgery.

Preparing for surgery

  • Be sure you have someone to take you home. Anesthesia and pain medicine will make it unsafe for you to drive or get home on your own.
  • Understand exactly what surgery is planned, along with the risks, benefits, and other options.
  • If you take a medicine that prevents blood clots, your doctor may tell you to stop taking it before your surgery. Or your doctor may tell you to keep taking it. (These medicines include aspirin and other blood thinners.) Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
  • Tell your doctor ALL the medicines and natural health products you take. Some may increase the risk of problems during your surgery. Your doctor will tell you if you should stop taking any of them before the surgery and how soon to do it.
  • Make sure your doctor and the hospital have a copy of your advance care plan. If you don't have one, you may want to prepare one. It lets others know your health care wishes. It's a good thing to have before any type of surgery or procedure.

What happens on the day of surgery?

  • Follow the instructions exactly about when to stop eating and drinking. If you don't, your surgery may be cancelled. If your doctor told you to take your medicines on the day of surgery, take them with only a sip of water.
  • Take a bath or shower before you come in for your surgery. Do not apply lotions, perfumes, deodorants, or nail polish.
  • Do not shave the surgical site yourself.
  • Take off all jewellery and piercings. And take out contact lenses, if you wear them.

At the hospital or surgery centre

  • Bring a picture ID.
  • The area for surgery is often marked to make sure there are no errors.
  • You will be kept comfortable and safe by your anesthesia provider. The anesthesia may make you sleep. Or it may just numb the area being worked on.
  • The surgery will take about 30 minutes.
  • You will have a bandage over the surgery area. A nurse will check and clean your trach every few hours.

When should you call your doctor?

  • You have questions or concerns.
  • You don't understand how to prepare for your surgery.
  • You become ill before the surgery (such as fever, flu, or a cold).
  • You need to reschedule or have changed your mind about having the surgery.

Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.