A tracheotomy is surgery to create an opening through the neck into the throat. The opening is called a stoma or tracheostomy. It may be temporary or permanent.
A tube called a tracheotomy tube will be inserted into the opening. Air may pass directly through this tube or tubing will be attached to a machine that helps with breathing.
Airflow Through a Tracheostomy
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.
Reasons for Procedure
A tracheotomy is done to open a new pathway for air to move into the lungs. It may be needed in children who have damage or illness to the upper airways from things like:
- Smoke or chemical inhalation, or burns
- Nerve or muscle problems that affect the airway or breathing
- Weak chest and diaphragm muscles
- Narrowing of the airway just below the voice box
- Abnormal structures of the head, neck, or airway
- Foreign body obstruction
A tracheotomy may also be done if long-term mechanical ventilation is needed. It lets a child move, eat, drink, and speak while receiving ventilation. It can also lower the risk of breathing in foods and liquids.
Problems are rare, but all procedures have some risk. The doctor will go over some problems that could happen, such as:
- Excess bleeding
Problems from anesthesia, such as wheezing or sore throat
- Damage to nearby structures, such as vocal cords, nerves, or esophagus
- Lung injury
- Problems with swallowing, speaking, or eating
- An abnormal connection (fistula) to the esophagus or other structures
What to Expect
Prior to Procedure
The surgical team may meet with you to talk about:
- Anesthesia options
Any allergies your child may have
- Current medicines, herbs, and supplements that your child takes and whether they need to be stopped before surgery
- Fasting before surgery, such as avoiding food or drink after midnight the night before
- Tests that will need to be done before surgery, such as images of the airway and surrounding structures
Description of the Procedure
An incision will be made in the skin of the neck. A section at the front of the windpipe will be removed. A tracheostomy tube will then be fitted into this opening in the windpipe. An inflatable cuff may be part of the tube. It would be used with mechanical ventilation to keep air going into the lungs and not leaking into the mouth. The skin will be closed with stitches or clips.
How Long Will It Take?
15 to 30 minutes
Will It Hurt?
Pain is common in the first few days. There may also be problems swallowing. Medicine and home care can help.
Average Hospital Stay
The usual length of stay is 1 to 5 days. If your child has any problems, they may need to stay longer.
At the Hospital
Right after the procedure, the staff may:
- Give medicine to ease pain and nausea
- Take an x-ray to evaluate the tube
- Check to make sure the tube is working as it should
- Teach you and your child how to care for the tube
- Teach your child how to speak and eat with the tube
During your child's stay, the hospital staff will take steps to lower your child's risk of infection, such as:
- Washing their hands
- Wearing gloves or masks
- Keeping your child's incisions covered
There are also steps you can take to lower your child's risk of infection, such as:
- Washing your hands often and reminding visitors and staff to do the same
- Reminding staff to wear gloves or masks
- Not letting others touch your child's incisions
It will take a few weeks to get used to the tube. Physical activity may need to be limited during this time. Your child will need help with daily activities and need to delay their return to school.
Call Your Child's Doctor
Call the doctor if your child is not getting better or has:
- Signs of infection, such as fever and chills
- Mucous that has a bad odor
- Redness, swelling, excessive bleeding, or any discharge from the incision site
- Pain that cannot be controlled with medicine
- Shortness of breath
- New or worsening symptoms
Call for emergency medical services right away if:
- The tracheostomy tube falls out and you cannot replace it
- Your child is having problems breathing through the tube
If you think your child has an emergency, call for medical help right away.
Mechanical ventilation. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/procedure/mechanical-ventilation. Accessed September 8, 2021.
Tracheostomy and ventilator dependence. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association website. Available at: https://www.asha.org/public/speech/disorders/tracheostomies-or-ventilators. Accessed September 8, 2021.
Tracheostomy service. Johns Hopkins Medicine website. Available at: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/tracheostomy/about/index.html. Accessed September 8, 2021.
Last reviewed July 2021 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Kari Kuenn, MD
Last Updated: 9/8/2021