Complications of a tracheostomy 

Creating a tracheostomy is considered to be a safe and straightforward procedure. But, as with many medical procedures, it does carry a risk of complications.

The likelihood of complications occurring will depend on:

  • your age and general health
  • the reason you need the tracheostomy

Generally, a planned tracheostomy carries a lower risk of complications than an emergency tracheostomy.

Early complications

Some of the complications that can occur during or shortly after a tracheostomy are outlined below.


It's common for some bleeding to occur from the windpipe (trachea) or the tracheostomy itself after a tracheostomy has been created.

This is usually minor and gets better within a few days, although in some cases it can be significant and a blood transfusion may be necessary.

Collapsed lung

Sometimes air will collect around the lungs and cause the lungs to collapse inwards. This is known as a pneumothorax. In mild cases, this often corrects itself without the need for treatment. In more serious cases, a tube will need to be surgically implanted into the chest to drain the air away.

Accidental injury

The nerves near the windpipe can be accidentally damaged, such as those controlling the voice box (larynx) or the oesophagus (the tube that runs from the back of the throat to the stomach). This may cause problems with speaking and swallowing.


The windpipe or nearby tissues can become infected with bacteria. These usually need to be treated with antibiotics.

Late complications

Some of the complications that can occur days, weeks or even months after a tracheostomy are described below.

Failure to heal

Sometimes the tracheostomy wound will not heal properly and starts to bleed. If this happens, the tracheostomy tube may need to be temporarily removed so surgery can be carried out to stem the bleeding.

Blocked tracheostomy tube

There is a risk that the tracheostomy tube could become suddenly or gradually blocked with mucus and fluids if the person is unable to clear their airways by coughing.

This risk can be reduced by ensuring the tube is regularly cleaned and any fluid is suctioned out.

Collapsed windpipe

Sometimes the windpipe collapses in on itself because the walls of the windpipe are not strong enough to support it. This usually occurs when the tracheostomy tube has not been fitted properly, and it requires further surgery.

Narrowed windpipe

Accidental damage to the throat can result in the airways becoming scarred and narrowed, which can cause breathing difficulties. Surgery may be needed to widen the airways. This may involve implanting a small tube called a stent to keep the airways open.

Page last reviewed: 26/01/2015

Next review due: 26/01/2017