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A tracheostomy is an opening surgically created through the neck into the trachea (windpipe) to allow air to fill the lungs. After creating the tracheostomy opening in the neck, surgeons insert a tube through it to provide an airway and remove secretions from the lungs. The person with a tracheotomy breathes through the tracheostomy tube (trach tube) rather than through the nose and mouth. A tracheostomy may be temporary or permanent.

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Who might need a tracheotomy?

All tracheotomies are performed to address a lack of air getting to the lungs. An emergency tracheotomy may be performed on a person with acute illness or traumatic injury that blocks their airway.

A person with chronic illness, such as a condition that blocks the airway or paralyzes the breathing muscles, may have a tracheotomy as an elective procedure. A trach tube can make it easier to breathe. For some people on mechanical ventilation or who are receiving intensive care, a tracheotomy may be easier to tolerate and require less sedating medication than having an endotracheal tube placed down the throat.

The three most common reasons why a tracheotomy is performed are:

Prolonged dependence on a ventilator for breathing

To bypass an obstructed upper airway

To clean and remove secretions from the airway

To deliver oxygen to the lungs more easily or safely

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