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A tracheostomy is a surgical procedure to create an opening in the neck at the front of the windpipe (trachea).

A tube is inserted into the opening and connected to an oxygen supply and ventilator to assist with breathing.

Fluid that has built up in the throat and windpipe can also be removed through the opening.

A tracheostomy may be performed as:

  • a planned procedure – to help someone who can't breathe as part of treatment in intensive care, or because of a long-term condition such as multiple sclerosis
  • an emergency procedure – for example, if someone is unable to breathe following an injury or accident

Read more about why a tracheostomy is necessary.

Planned tracheostomies are usually carried out in an operating theatre using general anaesthetic.

If it's an emergency, the tracheostomy will be carried out at the site of the accident or the nearest hospital's accident and emergency department. Local anaesthetic may be used if there is not enough time to use general anaesthetic.

Read about how a tracheostomy is performed.

Is a tracheostomy permanent?

A tracheostomy can be temporary or permanent. When it's possible for a person to breathe, protect their airway and clear fluids unaided, the tracheostomy tube may then be removed.

The opening will usually close on its own within a couple of weeks, leaving a small scar. If it doesn't close on its own, it can be closed using stitches.

The tube may need to stay in permanently if a person has a long-term condition.


A tracheostomy is a safe and effective procedure. However, as with all medical procedures, there is a small risk of complications, such as bleeding and infection.

Read more about any complications of a tracheostomy that could arise.

Living with a tracheostomy

It's possible to enjoy a good lifestyle with a permanent tracheostomy tube. However, adapting to life with a tracheostomy tube can take some time and most people will initially have difficulty with talking, eating, exercise and keeping the tracheostomy tube clean and free of blockages.

If you or your child needs to have a tracheostomy, a specially trained nurse will be available to give you advice and answer any questions that you have.

Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children also has a comprehensive guide about living with a tracheostomy.

Page last reviewed: 08/02/2013

Next review due: 08/02/2015


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The 1 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Anonymous said on 08 April 2012

No offence to NHS staff but I've been in situations where this has been considered and I as a a less qualified first aider I said no and they listened so no offence to you but you really need to re-consider when this proceeder needs to be used. It is a serious procedure and when the casualty is unresponsive to my first thought would be intubation to maintain the air way if there is no pulse then heart compressions and mouth to mouth. Even in the event of no pulse this procedure is still an extreme. In my view it should only be used if there is an object in the air-way which cannot be removed immanently, and poses a risk to the life of the patient

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