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The tracheostomy procedure
In most situations, the surgery is performed in the intensive care unit or in the operating room. In either location, the patient is continuously monitored by pulse oximeter (oxygen saturation) and cardiac rhythm (EKG). The anesthesiologists usually use a mixture of an intravenous medication and a local anesthetic in order to make the procedure comfortable for the patient.
The surgeon makes an incision low in the neck. The trachea is identified in the middle and an opening is created to allow for the new breathing passage (tracheostomy tube) to be inserted below the voice box (larynx). Newer techniques utilizing special instruments have made it possible to perform this procedure via a percutaneous approach (a less invasive approach using a piercing method rather than an open surgical incision).
General instructions and follow-up care after tracheostomy
The surgeons will monitor the healing for several days after the tracheostomy. Usually, the initial tube that was placed at the time of surgery will be changed to a new tube sometime between 10 and 14 days following surgery, depending on the specific circumstances. Subsequent tube changes are usually managed by the treating physician or nursing staff.
Speech will be difficult until the time comes for a special tube to be placed which may allow talking by allowing the flow of air up to the vocal cords. Any time a patient requires mechanical ventilation, air is prevented from leaking around the tube by a balloon. Therefore, while the patient is on a mechanical ventilator, he/she will be unable to talk. Once the doctors are able to decrease the-size of the tube, speaking may be possible. At the appropriate time, instructions will be given. Oral feeding may also be difficult until a smaller tube is placed.
If the tracheostomy tube will be necessary for a long period of time, the patient and family will be instructed on home care. This will include suctioning of the trachea, and changing and cleaning the tube. When the time comes you will be provided with ample information, instruction, and practice. Often, home healthcare will be provided, or the patient will be transferred to an intermediate health care facility.
In some cases (especially when performed during an emergency or prolonged intubation) the tracheostomy will not be a permanent situation. If the patient can tolerate breathing without the tracheostomy tube the surgical site can be closed, leaving a scar at the outside of the neck.
Medically reviewed by James E. Gerace, MD; American Board of Internal Medicine with subspecialty in Pulmonary Disease
"Overview of tracheostomy"