• Medical Author:
    Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP

    Dr. Balentine received his undergraduate degree from McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland. He attended medical school at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine graduating in1983. He completed his internship at St. Joseph's Hospital in Philadelphia and his Emergency Medicine residency at Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center in the Bronx, where he served as chief resident.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Tracheostomy facts

  • Tracheostomy is a surgical procedure to create an opening in the neck for direct access to the trachea (the breathing tube).
  • Tracheostomy is performed because of airway obstruction, problems with secretions, and inefficient oxygen delivery.
  • Tracheostomy can have complications.
  • A tracheostomy requires follow-up care.

What is a tracheostomy?

A tracheostomy is a surgically created opening in the neck leading directly to the trachea (the breathing tube). It is maintained open with a hollow tube called a tracheostomy tube.

Why is a tracheostomy performed?

A tracheostomy is usually done for one of several reasons:

  1. to bypass an obstructed upper airway (an object obstructing the upper airway will prevent oxygen from the mouth to reach the lungs);
  2. to clean and remove secretions from the airway;
  3. prolonged mechanical ventilation (breathing machine); and
  4. to more easily, and usually more safely, deliver oxygen to the lungs.

What are risks and complications of tracheostomy?

It is important to understand that a tracheostomy, as with all surgeries, involves potential complications and possible injury from both known and unforeseen causes. Because individuals vary in their tissue circulation and healing processes, as well as anesthetic reactions, ultimately there can be no guarantee made as to the results or potential complications. Tracheostomies are usually performed during emergency situations or on very ill patients. This patient population is, therefore, at higher risk for a complication during and after the procedure

The following complications have been reported in the medical literature. This list is not meant to be inclusive of every possible complication. It is listed here for information only in order to provide a greater awareness and knowledge concerning the tracheostomy procedure.

  • Airway obstruction and aspiration of secretions (rare).
  • Bleeding. In very rare situations, the need for blood products or a blood transfusion.
  • Damage to the larynx (voice box) or airway with resultant permanent change in voice (rare).
  • Need for further and more aggressive surgery
  • Infection
  • Air trapping in the surrounding tissues or chest. In rare situations, a chest tube may be required
  • Scarring of the airway or erosion of the tube into the surrounding structures (rare).
  • Need for a permanent tracheostomy. This is most likely the result of the disease process which made the tracheostomy necessary, and not from the actual procedure itself.
  • Impaired swallowing and vocal function
  • Scarring of the neck

Obviously, many of the types of patients who undergo a tracheostomy are seriously ill and have multiple organ-system problems. The doctors will decide on the ideal timing for the tracheostomy based on the patient's status and underlying medical conditions.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/9/2016

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