Thumbnail image of: Respiratory System: Illustration
Thumbnail image of: Tracheostomy Tube: Illustration

Respiratory Intubation, Surgical, Discharge Information

What is a respiratory intubation and mechanical ventilation?

Respiratory intubation means a tube is put into your windpipe (trachea) to protect your airway and help you breathe. A tracheostomy is surgery to make a small opening through the front of your neck and into your windpipe (trachea). A tube is then placed through the opening and into your windpipe. The tube keeps your airway open and helps you breathe by allowing air to flow into and out of your lungs. It may be attached to a breathing machine, called a ventilator, which breathes for you by moving air into and out of your lungs. This is called mechanical ventilation.

The terms tracheostomy, tracheotomy, and trach may be used to refer to both the surgical procedure and to the opening created by the procedure.

A tracheostomy may be done when you have a problem with your airway. For example, it may be done if:

  • You have an injury or a condition that makes it hard to breathe, cough up the mucus in your airways, or swallow.
  • You will be on a ventilator for a long time.

A tracheostomy may be done as an emergency or as a planned procedure. It may be temporary or you may have it for life.

How can I take care of myself when I go home?


  • Your provider will give you a list of your medicines when you leave the hospital.
    • Know your medicines. Know what they look like, how much you should take each time, how often you should take them, and why you take each one.
    • Take your medicines exactly as your provider tells you to.
    • Carry a list of your medicines in your wallet or purse. Include any nonprescription medicines and supplements on the list.
    • Talk to your provider before you use any other medicines, including nonprescription medicines, supplements, natural remedies, and vitamins.
  • Your provider may prescribe medicine to:
  • Help relax your airways
    • Reduce swelling in the airways
    • Treat or prevent an infection
    • Help reduce fluids in the airway
  • You may need to go to a rehabilitation or long-term care setting after you leave the hospital to help you adjust to having a tracheostomy and learn to care for your tracheostomy.
  • You or your family will be taught how to care for the tracheostomy. This will include cleaning the trach site, removing mucus and fluid from your upper airways (suctioning), and changing the tube. You may have an inner cannula (tube) that fits into the outer tube of the tracheostomy. This inner tube can be removed and cleaned to prevent mucus from blocking the tracheostomy, which can make it hard to breath. You will learn how to clean this tube at least once a day.
  • Take care of your health. Try to get at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. Eat a healthy diet and try to keep a healthy weight. If you smoke, try to quit. If you want to drink alcohol, ask your healthcare provider how much is safe for you to drink. Learn ways to manage stress. Exercise according to your healthcare provider’s instructions.


  • Follow your provider’s instructions for follow-up appointments and routine tests.
  • Keep appointments for all routine testing you may need.
  • Talk with your provider about any questions or concerns you have.

Call emergency medical services or 911 if you have new or worsening:

  • Anxiety
  • Chest pain or pressure, squeezing, or fullness in the center of your chest that lasts more than few minutes, or goes away and comes back (may feel like indigestion or heartburn)
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms or shoulders, or in your back, neck, jaw, or stomach
  • Trouble breathing
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat for no known reason
  • If your provider has prescribed nitroglycerin for angina, pain that does not go away after taking your nitroglycerin as directed
  • Along with the previous symptoms, feeling very tired, faint, or sick to your stomach
  • Trouble replacing the trach tube after cleaning
  • Bleeding from the tracheostomy that does not stop

Do not drive yourself if you have any of these symptoms.

Call your healthcare provider if you have new or worsening:

  • Chills or sweats
  • Confusion
  • Pain or bleeding at the tracheostomy site
  • Cough
  • Mucus that is a different in color, thick, or smells bad

Ask your healthcare provider about any medicine, treatment, or information that you do not understand.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Acute Care Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-11-07
Last reviewed: 2014-07-31
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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