What is a tracheostomy?

A tracheostomy is the surgical creation of a stoma (hole) in the front of the neck and through the trachea (windpipe). A tube is usually placed in the opening. The tube provides an airway and access to remove lung secretions and excess mucus. Once the tube is in place, you will breathe through the tube instead of your nose or mouth. A tracheostomy can be temporary or permanent, depending on the condition for which it is needed.

The word tracheostomy is often used interchangeably with tracheotomy. However, tracheotomy is the term for the surgical incision or cut, while tracheostomy is the term for the opening that the incision creates.

A tracheostomy is a common but major surgery with significant risks and potential complications. You may have less invasive treatment options. Consider getting a second opinion about all your treatment choices before having a tracheostomy.

Other procedures that may be performed

An emergency medicine doctor or general surgeon may perform a cricoidotomy in an emergency. A cricoidotomy creates a hole in the trachea above the spot that may be later used for a tracheostomy. A cricoidotomy is a temporary treatment used to save your life until you are stable or a more permanent tracheostomy can be done. 

Medical Reviewers: Daphne E. Hemmings, MD, MPH Last Review Date: Jul 14, 2013

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Medical References

  1. Pile, JC. Evaluating postoperative fever: A focused approach. Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine. 2006;73 (Suppl 1):S62. http://ccjm.org/content/73/Suppl_1/S62.full.pdf.
  2. Tracheostomy Care. Cleveland Clinic. http://my.clevelandclinic.org/head_neck/patients/head_neck_cancer/tracheostomy_care.aspx.
  3. Use Of A Tracheostomy With A Child.American Thoracic Society. http://patients.thoracic.org/information-series/en/resources/use-of-a-tracheostomy-with-a-child.pdf.
  4. What is a Tracheostomy? National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/trach/.

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