Living with a tracheostomy 

It's possible to enjoy a good lifestyle with a permanent tracheostomy tube. However, some people may find it takes some time to adapt to swallowing and communication.

Your care team will talk to you about possible issues you may experience, the help that's available, and what you need to do to look after your tracheostomy.

Speech

It's usually difficult to speak if you have a tracheostomy. Speech is generated when air passes over the vocal cords at the back of the throat, but after a tracheostomy most of the air that you breathe out will pass through your tracheostomy tube rather than over your vocal cords.

One solution is to use a speaking valve, which is an attachment that sits at the end of the tracheostomy tube and is designed to temporarily close every time you breathe out. This prevents the air leaking out of the tube and allows you to speak. However, it can take a while to get used to speaking with the valve.

You may be referred to a speech and language therapist for advice and training to help you learn to speak while the tracheostomy tube is in place.

Eating

Most people will eventually be able to eat normally with a tracheostomy, although swallowing can be difficult at first.

While in hospital, you may start off taking small sips of water before gradually moving on to soft foods, followed by regular food.

If you have any difficulties swallowing, a speech and language therapist can teach you some techniques that may help.

Physical activity

You should be able to resume everyday activities, but you should avoid vigorous activities for about six weeks after the procedure.

When you're outside, it's very important that your tracheostomy opening is kept clean and dry. The opening will usually be covered with a dressing, but a loose piece of clothing, such as a scarf, can also be worn over the top. This will stop substances such as water, sand or dust from entering the opening and causing breathing problems.

Cleaning the tracheostomy tube

A tracheostomy tube needs to be cleaned regularly to stop it becoming blocked with mucus or fluid. This may need to be done several times a day.

A specialist tracheostomy nurse will teach you how to take care of your tracheostomy tube before you leave hospital, including how to suction fluid from your windpipe (trachea) and how to clean and change the tube.

Page last reviewed: 26/01/2015

Next review due: 26/01/2017