A tracheostomy (also spelt tracheotomy) is a permanent hole cut in the windpipe (trachea) about half an inch in diameter, where a tube is inserted into the opening. The size of the tube depends on your weight and physique. Women tend not to need such a large size.
For OSA patients, the tube is capped during the daytime and the person breathes and speaks normally. During the night-time when the person is about to retire to bed, the plug is removed allowing the lungs to breathe directly through the tube. This bypasses any previous obstruction in the upper airway, and so totally rectifying the problem.
This is a total cure for Obstructive Sleep Apnea, but it's not pleasant. Don't consider this option without a lot of thought. A tracheostomy tends to smell and has to be cleaned morning and night. This is not an easy job and infections are quite common.
This is a very last resort solution.
The Shiley Tracheostomy Tube
There are many different types of trachs. This one is a "Shiley Cuffless Fenestrated 8 CFN" type and not very comfortable to wear. Looking extreme left or right and especially upwards, causes the tube to catch on the inside of my windpipe giving me coughing bouts.
The actual tube is longer than you would imagine, being just about 4 inches long. It has an inner "cannula" tube which is removable for cleaning. It is recommended that the whole tube be renewed every month, but this is rarely done. It should not be sterilised as this could affect the plastic, but can be soaked in warm soapy water. I found that the strap needed to be changed daily as when you wash, it gets soaked through.
The inner cannula needed cleaning every hour or so to start with, but this declined to about every 4 hours and is getting longer as each month passes. I was unable to cap my trach for the first month due to the mucus produced and severe coughing bouts.
Update: Since getting a Montgomery tube, things have improved 100% (see further down the page).
Securing the Tracheostomy
Some patients use a silver chain to secure them, wirh special clasps that fit the tube holder. I'm told that women use fancy ribbons, but I couldn't find one the right colour for myself. There are a range of covers available and I now wear a special cravat which looks rather smart.
Note: The daytime plug can shoot off like a bullet if I cough hard, and I've already lost one. This, my wife jokingly refers to as "popping my cork".
The Montgomery Long Term Cannula
It doesn't need any securing ties or straps as it has an inner flange which stops it popping out. The tube doesn't extend down your throat, so total head movement is allowed without coughing.
Insertion is done by squeezing the flange of the tube, and then pushing and rotating slightly until the flange is through to the inside of your windpipe. It is then pulled back gently until some resistance is felt, and a retaining ring is slide on to hold it in place. It can then be trimmed to a lower profile with a knife. The daytime tapered bung is then pushed in, which is very secure.
Insertion can be very painful in the early stages until the trach matures. The area around my trach is still reddish and tender. The advantage of this design is that there's no straps to bother about and the profile is a lot less obtrusive, so giving more choice in the clothes that can be worn. It only needs renewing every 6 months, so that will save the Nation Health Service a packet.
The Montgomery from www.bosmed.com is made in the U.S. and was informed that I'm the first person in the U.K. to have this type of trach fitted (15th January 2003). Well, that's my 15 minutes of fame as they say.
Update: Tony P. has had a Montgomery trach since (May 1999). Most UK hospitals have never heard of them.
The only problem I've found with the Monty trach is how it is secured. It won't come out by coughing, but it can be pushed inwards. To cough, you need to cover the hole with your finger. I woke during the night with a severe coughing bout. With my finger over the hole and coughing like mad, the tube disappeared inwards with the retaining ring dropping off. I had to get some tweezers to get hold of it and pull it back out, as it had gone in flush with my neck.
This now worries me, as if someone is acting about and grabs me around the neck from behind, the retaining ring just doesn't stop it from being pushed in. As I usually wear a T-shirt, no-one would know that I have a tracheostomy.
How to change a Montgomery tracheostomy
The Monty shown here has been in my neck for over a year without ever being removed, and with no problems (yes, it's a bit scruffy). I have just successfully removed and replaced it with a new one, and very pleased that I managed to do it myself.
When I went to get this changed at the hospital (recommended life-time of this device is 6 months), I was determined to do it myself. There was the specialist and 2 nurses with me, as I suppose they didn't know whether I could do it or not. I can tell you now, I was a touch nervous.
The new one was already prepared with lubricant on it. I just pulled slowly and the old one come out easily to my surprise. I picked up the new one and pushed it slowly in (you need to be looking in a mirror to line it up).
About half way in, I had to push really hard, then I heard a pop as the flanges opened up in my throat. I slowly pulled it back so the flanges were against the trachea wall. Then I coughed my guts up for a few minutes and frightened the life out of the hospital staff. It was just because I'd used too much lubricant and some had gone down my throat.
Here's what a clean one looks like. I've now been given a spare one and swap them over about every 7 days, allowing the other one to be cleaning properly.
Once cleaned, I store it in a small Tupperware box ready for next time. I knew I'd find a use for those damned boxes.
There is no real pain, but it still feels weird doing it. My neck feels a little sore for a couple of hours afterward, but I'll get used to it eventually. I've found that a little antiseptic cream smeared around the trach stops any irritation from the retaining ring rubbing on your neck.
I must thank the 'Leeds General Infirmary' staff for their great service and for putting up with me, as I ask too many questions, so they tell me *grin*. Well I need to know for this website.
Care of the tube
Your mouth and nose do this naturally, but having a trachea bypasses these. Available in large or small, they come in boxes of 10. These filters can be washed up to 3 times, then should be discarded.
This I learned the hard way as I got repeated chest infections for a while. These covers are scientifically designed to filter air as your mouth and throat would normally do. A great deal of research has gone into the making of these tracheostomy filters, so they aren't just for keeping flies out
When the blanking plug is not fitted, I am unable to speak without covering the hole with my finger (I'll have to get the wife one of these). Although a tracheostomy is very highly effective cure for obstructive sleep apnea, it is an extreme measure that is poorly tolerated by patients and thus rarely used for this purpose.
Stoma protective scarves and roll-necks
The scarves just look like a cravat and have a convenient Velcro fastening, making them easy to remove if you suddenly need to attend to it, and easily washed. The backless roll necks would probably be more suitable for winter.
What are the benefits?
In the UK by law, doctors and/or your specialist must inform the DVLA if you have been diagnosed as having Sleep Apnea. As a result, your driving licence is usually withdrawn depending on the severity. As a Tracheostomy is a total cure for obstructive sleep apnea (but not central sleep apnea), you can then apply for your driving licence back Yes!
One thing that I wasn't informed about (but later found out) was that all U.K. tracheostomy patients are entitled to free prescriptions. You need to see your doctor for an exemption form to apply for this.
Please Note:- Information on this website is not medical advice.
Always seek the advice of your doctor if you have a health problem.