Overview of Tracheostomy Procedure

For patients having trouble breathing, a surgeon performing a tracheostomy can make an incision directly into the front of a patient’s neck and through to his or her trachea, or windpipe, creating an alternate passage for air to circulate through the body. Sometimes, the hole created by the tracheostomy procedure is sufficient enough to help the patient breathe—especially when the incision is made quickly, under emergency circumstances, such as right after a patient experiences an internal bodily attack or swelling or his or her upper respiratory area has been injured or traumatized suddenly. Other times, however, a tracheostomy tube or some other machine-like device may need to be installed for long-term care of the patient.

Tracheostomies can be but are not always permanent; patients may have tracheostomy tubes removed and stoma (holes) created by tracheostomy can heal over time or be closed with minor surgery if an alternate route of breathing is no longer necessary. But patients with chronic or advanced medical conditions such as cancer of the throat or certain types of paralysis near the respiratory and vocal cord area may need to have permanent tracheostomies.

A tracheostomy procedure is usually performed in a hospital while a patient is completely sedation and unconscious. The patient will also have to remain hospitalized for several days to allow the body to heal, as tracheostomies are invasive surgical procedures. Talking or communicating using vocal noises in any way might be difficult after the procedure, so many patients use a pad of paper and a pencil or pen to communicate with hospital personnel, friends and family during this time of healing. Patients will also need to learn how to take care of their tracheostomy tubes and how their daily activities will be compromised by the tracheostomy tubes. Generally, a tracheostomy procedure is very safe but may lead to bleeding, infections, chest pain, breathing problems or permanent structural damage such as narrowing to the trachea or esophagus if post-procedural complications do arise.

Tracheostomy for Severe Sleep Apnea

Few sleep researchers have cited tracheostomy as one of the most effective form of treatment for sleep apnea as it allows air flow to completely bypass any obstructions located in the upper respiratory system and circulate directly through the hole or tracheostomy tube. However, for obvious reasons, the method is not accepted as a solution unless absolutely necessary, such as in the case that a sleep apnea patient has obesity hypoventilation syndrome (OHS) and his or her obstructed passages cannot be held open without invasive surgical intervention. More often than not, tracheostomy is used in morbidly obese patients as only a temporary way of opening up the airway passages while alternate therapies or surgeries are contemplated and performed.  If you'd like to know more about how a tracheostomy might affect your health situation, contact a local sleep specialist for free.