What Is A Tracheostomy?

The trachea is a tube at the front of the neck that carries air to the lungs. If there is a blockage in the airway, a tracheostomy is a surgical procedure that creates an opening in the trachea to allow for easier breathing. A tracheostomy, also called a tracheotomy, helps patients with cancer, lung disease, severe infections, injuries, and burns to breathe. The surgeon inserts a tracheostomy tube to secure the opening and allow breathing.

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Living with tracheotomy

Both temporary and permanent tracheostomies involve a unique tube that must remain in place. The tube has an inner cannula that goes into the airway. The patient replaces this part regularly to avoid the buildup of dust, dirt, and other secretions. The outer cannula holds the opening in place, preventing the tracheostomy tube from closing. Patients must adjust day-to-day activities with this tube in mind. Proper tracheostomy care ensures the stoma remains clear and the inner cannula is clean.

It’s time to speak

Basic activities with a tracheostomy tube can be challenging at first. Speaking is near impossible since air no longer passes over the vocal cords. Instead, the patient can speak by covering the tube's opening with a finger. Patients can also use a special valve attached to the tube that closes during speech. Both options require special training from a medical professional or speech therapist.

Eating with tracheostomy

Eating is still possible but may require the relearning of swallowing patterns. Eating habits and the variety of foods consumed must also be considered. Doctors recommend cleaning the tube before eating to prevent mucus buildup. Patients should drink lots of water and chew food thoroughly in small bites. Food particles may sometimes enter the tube or airway and require medical attention.

Moving around

Based on the surgery circumstances, some patients can resume basic activities. Light walking and low-intensity movements are allowed if the patient is able. Strenuous exercise can increase the risk of unwanted material entering the tube. For all outdoor activities, the opening should remain covered with a dressing.

Protecting your airway

Ensuring the inner tube stays clear of any foreign objects is essential. Patients must clean and or replace the tube several times a day. Suctioning and cleaning the tube are necessary for overall health and wellness. Fluid, dirt, dust, and mucus can get stuck, causing breathing difficulties or infections. A nurse or therapist can provide education and training on the proper removal and cleaning techniques.

Safety first

Patients must avoid activities that may block or flood the tube. Prohibited activities include swimming, submerging in a bathtub, or spraying water near the stoma. Humidifiers are often recommended to moisturize the air for safer breathing. Covering the inner tube with damp gauze can also help with humidity.

Take all precautions

Patients can have a better quality of life with proper tracheostomy care. Clean and inspect the inner cannula several times daily. Avoid situations that can cause blockages or difficulty breathing. Rest assured that even the simplest tasks become easier over time.