Every year, there are more than 100,000 tracheostomies performed in the U.S.
In some cases, a doctor will carry out a tracheostomy when a person’s upper airway has been obstructed. Without it, that person wouldn’t be able to get access to the oxygen their body needs.
In other instances, a doctor will turn to a tracheostomy when a person isn’t able to breathe on their own because of an illness or an injury. Those who sustain spinal cord injuries, for example, are often forced to undergo tracheostomies before being hooked up to ventilators.
Complications of tracheostomies are thankfully rare. But it’s important to note that they do happen and can affect those who have undergone a tracheostomy in a major way. Just like any other surgery, there are inherent risks associated with tracheostomies.
Here is what you need to know about the risks and complications of tracheostomies.
First, What Is a Tracheostomy?
A tracheostomy is a surgical procedure that calls for a doctor to create a small opening in a person’s neck. They do it to gain access to their trachea, which is better known as their windpipe.
During this procedure, a person will be put under general anesthesia in an operating room before a doctor works to make the small opening in their neck. A small tube called a tracheostomy tube will then be placed through the opening and used to help the person breathe.
Doctors need to be extremely careful when creating the opening in the person’s neck and inserting the tracheostomy tube. The proper techniques and equipment will help doctors avoid any complications of tracheostomies.
What Are the Earliest Possible Complications of Tracheostomies?
There are, unfortunately, a bunch of different complications and risks that a doctor could potentially encounter during a tracheostomy. No matter how careful a doctor is, there is always a chance that something could go wrong when a person is being operated on in the operating room.
Bleeding is one of the most common complications associated with tracheostomies. But it’s far from the only complication that can pop up during a procedure.
Here are some of the other complications that could present themselves during a tracheostomy:
- Pneumothorax, also known as a collapsed lung, which is a complication that occurs when air manages to make its way in between a person’s lungs and their chest wall
- Recurrent laryngeal nerve, which is an injury that can affect the nerve that is responsible for making a person’s vocal cords move
- Subcutaneous emphysema, which is a condition caused by air getting stuck underneath of the skin located right around the area where the tracheostomy was performed
There is also a chance that the tracheostomy tube itself can cause problems. It can encounter mucus, blood clots, and other buildups in a person’s airway. When this happens, a doctor will often need to stop and remove any blockages before proceeding.
None of these complications should catch an experienced doctor by surprise. But they’re all things a doctor will need to look out for at all times.
What Complications Could Show Up Later?
The majority of times, tracheostomies go off without a hitch. People wake up to find out that their tracheostomy surgery was a success.
But the potential complications of tracheostomies don’t end there. There are some problems that can appear later if a person and their caregiver aren’t diligent about taking care of the tracheostomy site and the tracheostomy tube.
It’s why it’s usually a good idea for those who have undergone tracheostomies to obtain nursing care when they have a tracheostomy tube in.
Check out a few complications that could arise in the weeks after a tracheostomy:
- Accidental decannulation, which occurs when a person accidentally removes their tracheostomy tube
- Damage to a person’s windpipe, which can be caused by everything from the pressure created by a tracheostomy tube to friction created by a tracheostomy tube moving around
- Infection that sets in either in a person’s trachea or somewhere around a tracheostomy tube
The good news is that you can reduce the chances of these kinds of complications of tracheostomies affecting you. You can do it by being careful with your tracheostomy tube and cleaning the tracheostomy area properly.
But in order to do this, you’ll likely need to consider getting access to short-term care. A medical professional can help you avoid the risks that you’ll face.
Are There Any Complications That Could Be Delayed?
Are you going to have a tracheostomy tube in for an extended period of time? If so, this could present a whole other batch of problems for you.
Over time, some people will experience what’s called tracheomalacia. It’s a condition that causes your trachea to thin out when a tracheostomy tube rubs up against it repeatedly.
There are also people who will develop granulation tissue in the form of small bumps near their tracheostomy site. It will need to be removed before a tracheostomy tube being taken out.
And there are even some complications that can arise when a tracheostomy tube is finally taken out. The opening in a person’s neck may not always close up on its own. An additional surgery could be required to close the opening for good.
Who Is Most Susceptible to Tracheostomy Complications?
Anyone can be subjected to the complications of tracheostomies. There is no way to reduce your risk level to 0.
But certain people might be more susceptible to complications. Those people include small children, diabetics, those who smoke or abuse alcohol, and anyone with a chronic disease.
But again, complications can affect anyone who undergoes a tracheostomy. So it’s always important for people to take the necessary steps to eliminate as many potential risks as they can.
How Can You Avoid Tracheostomy Complications?
There are so many different complications of tracheostomies that can affect you. You need to take the proper precautions to protect yourself if you ever have a tracheostomy done.
One way to steer clear of complications is to take good care of your opening and your tube following a tracheostomy. Checking into a short-term care facility might be the best way to do this.