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Tracheostomy for Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Tracheostomy is sometimes used to treat obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). In this surgery, the surgeon creates a permanent opening in the neck to the windpipe (trachea). He or she then puts a tube into the opening to let air in.

  • A valve keeps the opening of the tube closed during the day, which allows you to speak and breathe normally.
  • At night, the valve is opened so that air can go around the blockage in your throat and into your lungs while you sleep.

What To Expect After Surgery

The time needed for the opening of the tracheostomy to heal varies.

Why It Is Done

A tracheostomy is done only if you have severe sleep apnea, other treatments have failed, and other forms of surgery for the condition are not appropriate.

How Well It Works

Tracheostomy almost always cures sleep apnea that is caused by blockage of the upper airway.1

Risks

Complications and risks that may occur with a tracheostomy include:

  • Formation of scar tissue at the opening, which can affect how your neck looks.
  • Difficulty speaking.
  • Bleeding and infection at the site.
  • Increased risk of lung infections.
  • Emotional problems, such as a change in self-image and depression.

What To Think About

Tracheostomy is not typically used to treat sleep apnea, because other treatments are effective in most people.

People who are very overweight have more long-term problems after a tracheostomy than other people who have the procedure. For very overweight people, the surgeon must take greater care during the procedure to keep the opening from being blocked by fatty neck tissues.

Proper care of your tracheostomy is important. Keep the valve closed during the day so that you can talk and breathe normally. Tell your doctor right away if you notice signs of infection (redness, swelling, or drainage) at the site of your tracheostomy. If you have concerns or questions about your tracheostomy, talk with your doctor or surgeon.

Complete the surgery information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you prepare for this surgery.

Citations

  1. Aurora RN, et al. (2010). Practice parameters for the surgical modifications of the upper airway for obstructive sleep apnea in adults. Sleep, 33(10): 1408–1413.

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Mark A. Rasmus, MD - Pulmonology, Critical Care Medicine, Sleep Medicine
Last Revised June 17, 2011

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: June 17, 2011
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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