Tracheostomy for Sleep Apnea

Tracheostomy is a standard form of surgery which is now only done as a last resort, usually for sleep apnea patients for whom nothing else helps, or if their sleep apnea is serious enough to be considered life threatening. Even though this surgery has a high success rate, it is invasive. The procedure involves an incision in the throat that is about the size of a quarter, and may lead to a number of other health problems, some medical, some psychological.

A tracheostomy is a fairly simple operation. Basically, a surgeon makes an opening through the neck into the windpipe and inserts a tube. The opening, which is a permanent one coupled with the tube allows for the easy flow of air in and out of the windpipe (or trachea)

A Closer Look

A tracheostomy tube permits air to flow in and out of the patients lungs and eradicates episodes of obstructive sleep apnea. In daytime hours a valve keeps the shut, thus the patient may breathe and talk as naturally as possible. At night when the individual is sleeping the valve is wide open, allowing for air to flow into the throat but bypass the blockage and then find its way into the lungs.


Some people who undergo a tracheostomy may require more time than others. When sleep apnea is caused by upper airway blockages, a tracheostomy is almost always successful. Bear in mind, however, that this form of surgery is a kind of treatment that is often undertaken after all else has failed to work.

Tracheostomy Risks

A number of risks are associated with having a tracheostomy. First of all, scar tissue occasionally forms where the hole is made in the throat; this can make a difference in the appearance of the neck. Sometimes a patient who has a tracheostomy has a chance of developing an infection at the sight of the operation (symptoms include swelling, redness and drainage of fluid) and bleeding is often a complication.

Some patients develop problems with speech, some which occurs immediately following the surgery, but improves with healing, while others notice a permanent alteration in speech patterns. There is also a greater chance that a variety of lung infections will develop in patients who undergo a tracheostomy. Finally psychological and emotional problems such as depression and a lack of self-esteem can evolve as a result of this surgery.

Some people become self-conscious about their appearance after having a tracheostomy as it is more obvious in some people than it is in others. People who are overweight or obese often suffer more long-term consequences due to fatty tissue on the neck that can block the hole in the throat. It is important to be strict with your hygiene habits after having a tracheostomy; maintaining hygene in the area of the neck where the tube was inserted, and keeping it clean and free of debris is critical.