Tracheostomy: Emergency Care

What is a tracheostomy?

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.

What is a tracheostomy emergency?

A tracheostomy emergency is a problem that causes severe trouble breathing with the trach. For example, it can happen when:

  • The trach tube gets blocked.
  • The tube comes out accidentally.

Keep these supplies on hand to be prepared for a tracheostomy emergency:

  • A manual breathing (resuscitation) bag
  • Two extra trach tubes—one that is the current size and one that is smaller
  • Suction machine and suction tubes (catheters)
  • Saline water to rinse the tubing
  • Gauze pads or extra dressing pads for the trach
  • Extra ties for securing the trach in place

What should I do if the trach tube is blocked?

When you leave the hospital with a tracheostomy, you or your caregiver will need to know how to care for it. Your healthcare provider will give you instructions for adding moisture to the air you breathe and for removing mucus and fluid from the trach. Moisture in the air helps protect the lining of your lungs and helps keep mucus and fluid (secretions) thin. If the air is too dry, the secretions may get thick and be hard to cough up. They may block the trach tube. A blocked tracheostomy can cause serious trouble breathing and needs emergency care.

Symptoms may include:

  • Unusual anxiety (a frightened look may be an early sign of anxiety)
  • Restlessness
  • Choking on food or mucus, or refusing to eat or drink
  • Trouble breathing or fast breathing
  • Wheezing, which may happen when breathing in, and when breathing out
  • Bluish mouth, lips, or fingernails

If any of these symptoms occur, suction the trach tube right away. If the symptoms continue, change the trach tube and suction again. If the symptoms do not get better after the tube is changed, call 911 right away.

What should I do if the trach tube comes out accidentally?

The trach tube needs to be replaced every few weeks or as often as recommended by your healthcare provider. Your provider will teach you how to change the tube. The tube needs to be kept in place with cloth ties or Velcro straps. If the ties or straps are too loose, the tube can come out accidentally when you are coughing. You may need to have 2 people work together to change the tube or the ties to keep the tube from coming out accidentally.

Keep extra trach tubes with you at all times. If the tube comes out accidentally, follow your healthcare provider’s instructions for replacing the tube. You may need to use the resuscitation bag for extra breaths after replacing the tube.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-04-24
Last reviewed: 2014-04-24
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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