Boots WebMD Partners in Health
Return To Boots


Tracheostomy is a surgical treatment to connect a tube directly into the trachea (windpipe) to assist breathing. It may be performed for severe breathing difficulties, respiratory failure, a blocked windpipe or to enable mechanical ventilation.

In a tracheostomy procedure, a small hole is cut in the front of the windpipe or trachea through an incision in the neck to allow a special tube to be passed through.

A tracheostomy is usually carried out for adults or children who need a long period of mechanical ventilation or breathing support. The tube can also be used to remove any build-up of fluid from the windpipe.

The trachea

Illustration of trachea

The trachea is a tube around 10cm long and less than 2.5cm in diameter in most people.

The trachea begins just under the larynx (voice box) and runs down behind the breastbone (sternum). The trachea then divides into two smaller tubes called bronchi: one bronchus for each lung.

The trachea is composed of about 20 rings of tough cartilage. The back part of each ring is made of muscle and connective tissue.

Tracheostomy procedure

A scalpel or special needle is used by a doctor to make a hole in the windpipe for the breathing tube or fluid removal tube.

The tracheostomy may be planned in advance or carried out in a medical emergency, for example if a blocked airway is stopping the person from breathing.

General or local anaesthetic may be used and the placement of the tube may be temporary for short-term conditions or permanent for long-term medical conditions.

An X-ray is sometimes used to make sure the tube is in the correct place. A dressing keeps the external part of the tube in place and sterile.

Tracheostomy precautions

Once the tube is inserted, it will be more difficult for the person to speak, but this can be helped with the use of an additional speaking valve on the tube and sometimes help from a speech and language therapist.

The tracheostomy affects swallowing, so eating is affected and diet changes may be needed.

The tracheostomy tube needs to be kept clean to avoid blockages. Homecare instructions may be given. Outdoors, wearing a scarf can help protect the tube and dressing.

Complications of a tracheostomy include collapsed lung, bleeding, infection and accidental injury to the voice box during insertion of the tube.

WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Sheena Meredith on October 29, 2015

Stay informed

Sign up for BootsWebMD's free newsletters.
Sign Up Now!

Popular slideshows & tools on BootsWebMD

man holding back
Myths & facts about back pain
hands grabbing knee
How to keep your joints healthy
bowl of soup
Small changes that lead to weight loss
cute baby
Simple tips to keep baby's skin healthy
cute dog
10 common allergy triggers
Do you know what causes hair loss?
woman exercising
Exercises for low back pain
sperm and egg
Facts to help you get pregnant
bucket with cleaning supplies in it
Cleaning for a healthy home
rash on skin
Soothe skin and prevent flare-ups
mother and child
Could your baby be allergic to milk?
pregnant woman eating healthy salad
Nutrition needs before pregnancy