Tracheostomy 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.

Before you leave the hospital with a tracheostomy, you or your caregiver will learn how to care for it. This includes:

  • Making sure there is enough moisture in the air you are breathing. Moisture 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 and make it hard to breathe.
  • Removing secretions from the airway (suctioning). Suctioning makes it less likely that the tube will be blocked with mucus.
  • Cleaning and changing the tube often. You may need to clean, disinfect, and reuse trach tubes.

Work with your healthcare provider to learn how to care for your trach.


Before you leave the hospital, your healthcare provider or the hospital staff will help you get any equipment you need at home.

Humidifier: A humidifier is a machine that puts moisture into the air near the opening of the trach tube. Use the humidifier as recommended by your healthcare provider.

You will need to clean and disinfect the humidifier at least once a week, according to the supplier’s instructions.

Heat moisture exchanger (HME): If your secretions are thin and your breathing is normal, you may be ready to use an HME. An HME is a filter that fits onto the end of the trach tube. The HME collects moisture and warmth from the air you breathe out, and adds warmth and moisture when you breathe in.

Disposable HMEs are meant for single use. They should be thrown away when they get clogged with mucus. A reusable HME has plastic pieces that can be washed and a disposable filter.

A HME is usually used when you are awake and active. When you start using an HME, you will need to increase how long you use it slowly. If the secretions don’t get too thick, you may be able to use the HME for longer periods of time.

If your mucus gets too thick while using the HME, you may need to:

  • Use a humidifier for 30 to 60 minutes to help thin the mucus.
  • Use a nebulizer for 10 to 15 minutes with saline in the medicine cup and a trach collar. A trach collar is a soft plastic mask that fits over and around the tracheostomy tube to provide moisture.
  • Drink more liquid to keep mucus thin, unless your provider has told you to limit fluids.


Suctioning helps keep mucus from blocking the trach tube and makes breathing easier. It should be done only when you cannot cough up secretions on your own. It is a good idea to suction before bedtime to prevent problems and help you sleep.

How often you need suctioning depends on how much mucus you have, how thick the mucus is, and how well you are breathing. It’s natural for your body to make saliva and cough up mucus. If you suction too much, you may not have enough moisture in your airways. Signs that you need suctioning include:

  • Gurgling or bubbly sounds
  • Coughing or wheezing
  • Trouble breathing or very fast breathing

Suctioning should be done before eating to help prevent vomiting during the suctioning.

Your healthcare provider will show you how to suction the trach tube. Be sure you understand the steps of suctioning and practice in the hospital before doing it at home.

Each time before you suction, make sure you have all the equipment you need. You will need a suction machine with tubing that attaches to a disposable suctioning tube (catheter). The catheter will be inserted through the trach opening into the airway to remove mucus and fluid. You will also need water to rinse the tubing.

Catheters can be reused as long as the tubing remains clear and flexible. Rinse the catheter with water and then allow it to air dry before storing it in a clean, dry place. Hydrogen peroxide can be used to rinse tubes with thick secretions. Also rinse the catheter with water just before you use it.

Clean the catheter suction machine, tubing, and any other parts that have touched the secretions regularly. The equipment supplier will tell you how and when to do this.

Normal secretions are clear to white and thin to slightly thick. If your secretions are very thick, you may need to suction 2 or 3 times. You should rest and take deep breaths for at least 30 seconds before suctioning again.

The best way to keep mucus thin and easy to suction is to use a humidifier and get plenty of fluids. Signs that you are not getting enough fluids may include urinating fewer than 3 times a day, dark yellow urine, and urine that has a strong ammonia smell.

Look carefully at the mucus and fluid removed from the trach for signs of infection. During the first 1 or 2 hours after you wake up, the mucus and fluid may be light yellow or green, but secretions should soon become clear or a white color. Call your healthcare provider if:

  • Your mucus is more yellow or green than usual.
  • You have a fever or are vomiting.
  • The mucus has a bad smell.
  • There is bright red blood in the secretions. (A few streaks of blood or a faint pinkish tinge in the catheter may be normal after a trach tube change.)

Talk to your healthcare provider if you have questions or concerns about suctioning.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-05-01
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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