Your doctor will advise you on how long you need to stay in the hospital or surgical center based on your diagnosis, age, medical history, general health, and possibly your personal preference.

Types of anesthesia that may be used

Your surgeon will perform your tracheostomy using general anesthesia, unless the situation is an emergency or critical in nature. Your care team will use local anesthesia in an emergency. 

  • General anesthesia is a combination of intravenous (IV) medications and gases that put you in a deep sleep. You are unaware of the procedure and will not feel any pain.
  • Local anesthesia involves injecting an anesthetic medication around the area in your neck so you do not feel anything. You will likely have sedation with regional anesthesia to keep you relaxed and comfortable.

What to expect the day of your tracheostomy

The day of your surgery, you can generally expect to:

  • Talk with a preoperative nurse. The nurse will perform an exam and ensure that all needed tests are in order. The nurse can also answer questions and will make sure you understand and sign the surgical consent form.
  • Remove all clothing and jewelry and dress in a hospital gown. It is a good idea to leave all jewelry and valuables at home or with a family member. Your care team will give you blankets for modesty and warmth.
  • Talk with the anesthesiologist or certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) about your medical history and the type of anesthesia you will receive.
  • A surgical team member will start an IV.
  • The anesthesiologist or CRNA will start your anesthesia.
  • The surgical team will monitor your vital signs and other critical body functions. This occurs throughout the procedure and your recovery until you are alert, breathing effectively, and your vital signs are stable.

What are the risks and potential complications of a tracheostomy?  

As with all surgeries, a tracheostomy involves risks and possible complications. Complications may become serious and life threatening in some cases. Complications can develop during surgery or recovery.  

General risks of surgery 

The general risks of surgery include: 

  • Anesthesia reaction, such as an allergic reaction and problems with breathing 
  • Bleeding, which can lead to shock
  • Blood clot, in particular a deep vein thrombosis that develops in the leg or pelvis. A blood clot can travel to your lungs, heart or brain and cause a pulmonary embolism, heart attack, or stroke.
  • Infection and septicemia, which is the spread of a local infection to the blood

Potential complications of a tracheostomy

Complications of a tracheostomy include:

  • Breakdown of the tissues that make up your trachea
  • Collapsed lung, punctured lung or pneumothorax. A pneumothorax is a condition in which air leaks into the space between your chest wall and the outer tissues of the lungs. This causes pain and shortness of breath.
  • Damage to your esophagus
  • Damage to your thyroid gland. Your thyroid gland is located on either side of your trachea (windpipe), just below your larynx (voice box).
  • Fistula development, an abnormal connection between your trachea and your esophagus
  • Nerve damage to the nerves that control your larynx
  • Severe scarring of your trachea that causes pain and difficulty breathing
  • Subcutaneous emphysema, a condition in which air becomes trapped beneath your skin

Reducing your risk of complications

You can reduce the risk of certain complications by following your treatment plan and:

  • Following activity, dietary and lifestyle restrictions and recommendations before surgery and during recovery
  • Informing your doctor or radiologist if you are nursing or if there is any possibility that you may be pregnant
  • Notifying your doctor immediately of any concerns, such as bleeding, fever, increase in pain, or wound redness, swelling or drainage 
  • Taking your medications exactly as directed
  • Telling all members of your care team if you have any allergies 

How do I prepare for my tracheostomy?

You are an important member of your own healthcare team. The steps you take before surgery can improve your comfort and outcome.