What is a Tracheostomy?

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  • Written By: Harriette Halepis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 13 September 2019
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A tracheostomy, also called a tracheotomy, is a surgical procedure that involves creating an incision in the trachea and placing a breathing apparatus within the opening. There are many different reasons why a tracheostomy is performed, though this type of procedure is almost always a last resort. Surgeons, physicians, paramedics, and veterinarians may all perform tracheostomies.

Many historians believe that tracheostomies were performed in Ancient Egypt. Ibn Zuhr, a Muslim physician, was the first person to write down the proper tracheostomy procedure, during the 12th century CE. The tracheostomy procedure that is used by surgeons all over the globe today was developed by Dr. Chevalier Jackson in 1909.

The tracheostomy procedure is often performed on people who have facial deformities; head, neck, and congenital tumors; and branchial cysts. Further, medical professionals may perform a tracheotomy on people who require some type of mechanical ventilation, such as comatose patients. Certain emergency situations that have resulted in obstructed breathing may also lead to a tracheotomy, though this is often rare.


While a tracheostomy can be a lifesaving procedure, there are many complications that may arise from this type of operation. The biggest risk associated with a tracheotomy is possible laryngeal nerve damage. When laryngeal nerve damage occurs, a patient may not be able to speak properly. Since the laryngeal nerves are connected to the vocal cords, some patients may even lose all speech capabilities due to this type of complication. Even though tracheotomies can be performed on an emergency basis, it is optimal to perform this type of operation inside a hospital operating room.

Within the controlled environment of a hospital operating room, a surgical team can attempt to avoid striking the laryngeal nerves. By creating an incision in the larynx, the laryngeal nerves are frequently avoided. However, the possibility of laryngeal nerve damage is still viable even within a hospital setting.

Most tracheostomy procedures are permanent, although temporary tracheotomies can also be performed. In this case, the tube that is inserted into the trachea is removed after a certain amount of time has passed. Once a tube has been removed, the incision is then allowed to heal with the help of sutures. Permanent tracheotomies may also be closed during surgery, though this is rare.

People who have just undergone tracheotomy surgery may not adapt to this surgery right away. In most instances, patients require up to three days to begin breathing normally. However, most patients do adapt to the surgery after a certain amount of time has passed. Speaking with a tracheotomy tube may require speech therapy.


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