A “tracheostomy” is the name of the opening that surgeons make in the neck to access the windpipe. Some people call it a “trachy”. A “tracheostomy tube” is placed through this opening. It can then be connected to the ventilator. Doctors use the ventilator to maintain the right pressures and oxygen levels in the lungs.
A tracheostomy tube is inserted while the patient is under anaesthetic. Patients can not eat or drink. To begin with patients are also not able to speak. Sometimes a “speaking valve” is placed over the tracheostomy. This allows the patient to speak when their strength has started to improve. Therapists also work with patients to help them communicate with white-boards, and iPad tools.
Some patients will have their tracheostomy tube removed before they leave hospital. Some patients will need it for the longer term. How long the tube is used depends on the patient's medical condition. Usually patients need to be able to breathe on their own, cough and swallow saliva before it can be removed.
Another type of breathing tube is an endotracheal tube (ETT) that is placed into the windpipe through the mouth.
This topic was reviewed by an intensive care medicine specialist in July 2022.