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What is a tracheostomy?

Trach TubeA tracheostomy is an opening created in the neck and into the windpipe.

It is done to help the patient breathe. The opening is maintained by using a plastic tube inserted at the time of the procedure. This is called a tracheostomy tube.

Where is the tracheostomy done?

Depending on the patient’s condition, the procedure will be performed either at the bedside in the intensive care unit or in the operating room. It takes less than an hour to complete the procedure and the patient is under anesthesia throughout.

When is it used?

There are various occasions when a tracheostomy is recommended:

  • If the patient needs a breathing machine for a prolonged time;
  • If the airway has a blockage from swelling or a tumour;
  • If the patient has difficulty coughing, leading to a build-up of fluid in the lungs.

In most cases, a tracheostomy is a temporary treatment. Some patients, however, need it life-long.

What are the benefits of a tracheostomy?

There can be numerous benefits of having a tracheostomy, such as:

  • A tracheostomy may be more comfortable than having a tube in the mouth.
  • It makes breathing less difficult for the patient and allows for easier mouth care.
  • It provides access to the patient’s lungs, making it easier to use suctioning to remove a build-up of fluids and secretions.
  • A tracheostomy may provide additional help to wean patients who have been on a breathing machine for a prolonged period of time.

What are the risks?

As with most medical procedures, a tracheostomy involves some risks, such as:

  • Bleeding, both at the time of insertion and later on;
  • Movement and dislocation of the tube from the windpipe;
  • Blockage or obstruction of the tube;
  • Infection.

In general these complications are rare, and steps can be taken if they happen. A tracheostomy is offered only if the benefits outweigh the risks.

What’s daily life like with a tracheostomy?

At the beginning, the patient will breathe and cough through the tracheostomy opening.

Over time, the team will work to restore normal breathing through the mouth.

Eventually, the patient will also be able to speak and start eating and drinking again.

In the ICU, the medical team will oversee the care of the tracheostomy. If the patient is moved to a hospital ward, his or her care will be followed by the Tracheostomy Team and coordinated by the Respiratory Therapists.

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Location and contact

Critical Care Medicine

Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre
2075 Bayview Avenue, 
D-wing, 1st floor
room D1 08
Toronto, ON M4N 3M5

Phone: 416-480-4522
Fax: 416-480-4999

For information about patients admitted to Sunnybrook's Intensive Care Units, please contact the unit through the hospital switchboard at 416-480-6100