Some people may need a tracheostomy to help them breathe properly. People with a tracheostomy may have a good quality of life but usually need a care team to show them how to adapt.

A tracheostomy is an opening in a person’s trachea, or windpipe, that a surgeon makes so that the person can breathe. Although there are technical differences, people sometimes use the term “tracheotomy.” Tracheotomy refers to the incision, or making the opening, while a tracheostomy refers to the opening itself.

Doctors may perform a tracheotomy if a person has difficulty breathing independently. This may happen due to upper airway obstruction or conditions such as severe pneumonia or stroke. The tracheostomy may be temporary or permanent, depending on the reason for making the opening.

This article explores how a tracheostomy affects a person’s life expectancy and quality of life. In addition, it provides tips on living with a tracheostomy and answers some frequently asked questions.

X-ray of a person with a tracheostomy.Share on Pinterest
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Researchers have performed studies involving people with a tracheostomy to determine how it affects their life expectancy.

A 2022 study involving people ages 42 years and older requiring mechanical ventilation by a tracheostomy for at least 7 days found that people with a tracheostomy died more often in the hospital than those without one.

A different 2022 study found that tracheostomy complications may be a risk factor for death. The risk of death increased by 0.7% with each year of age. This might mean that older people with a tracheostomy may die more often from complications than younger people with a tracheostomy. This could relate to the tracheostomy or other factors.

The study also found that the risk of death increased by 0.8% with each additional day in the hospital.

The same 2022 study above found that in a 1-year follow-up after intensive care, people with a tracheostomy had worse lung function and required more daily care than those without a tracheostomy.

The study also found that people with a tracheostomy were less likely to be at home than those without. However, experts did not perform a randomized study, so whether individuals’ lung function worsened before or after the tracheostomy is unclear.

A study from 2019 showed that people with a tracheostomy were more likely to experience depression after a year, possibly due to increased functional dependence, or needing further assistance performing daily living activities, lower income status, and difficulty completing education.

Learn more about depression.

However, the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) advises that a person with a permanent tracheostomy can still experience a good quality of life. Although it can affect aspects such as eating, talking, and exercising, a medical professional can help the individual to find ways to manage these.

A person with a tracheostomy may find it difficult to talk at first. A doctor may recommend a speaking valve, which is a small attachment that goes on the end of the tracheostomy. This closes every time the person breathes out, allowing them to talk.

A doctor may refer the individual to a speech and language therapist to help them get used to speaking with the valve.

Learn about speech therapy.

According to the NHS, a person can usually eat with a tracheostomy. However, they may find it difficult to swallow at first. A doctor may advise the person to consume only liquids and then soft foods before moving on to solid foods.

The American Thoracic Society advises that a tracheostomy may have short-term and long-term risks.

Short-term risks include:

  • surgical risks of bleeding and infection
  • neck injury
  • accidental decannulation, or the breathing tube coming out

Long-term risks include:

  • windpipe injury
  • stoma infection, which involves the area around the opening
  • serious bleeding
  • a higher chance of pneumonia
  • increased mucus and windpipe irritation
  • mucus blocking parts of the tube
  • accidental decannulation

A person’s doctor can discuss the risks of a tracheostomy with them and answer their questions.

A team of medical professionals can help a person with a tracheostomy transition home and provide emotional and physical support.

To prevent complications, someone must know how to keep a person’s tracheostomy site and tube clean and dry. In addition, they need to know what equipment the person needs at home and how to use it.

This can include training a caregiver to suction mucus and clean the tube, which may be necessary several times per day.

A person’s doctor and care team can advise on more ways to care for the tracheostomy tube and manage activities such as talking and eating.

Here are some frequently asked questions about a tracheostomy.

How long does a tracheostomy prolong life?

How long a tracheostomy prolongs life depends on each person’s case. A person’s doctor can answer questions about what they can expect with a tracheostomy.

What is the number of deaths after a tracheotomy?

One 2021 study reported that 37% of people in the intensive care unit after a tracheotomy died in a year. However, it is important to remember that the outlook differs for each individual.

People can have a good quality of life with a tracheostomy. A team of medical professionals can help them learn how to manage everyday tasks, which can include eating and talking.

However, some research shows that complications arising from a tracheostomy in the hospital intensive care unit may increase the risk of death.

It is a good idea for a person to discuss the benefits and possible risks of a tracheostomy with their doctor. Their doctor can answer their questions and advise on assistance and support they can access when they have a tracheostomy.