Tracheostomy suctioning removes mucus and secretions you can’t clear with coughing. It opens your airway and helps you breathe better. Whether you have a temporary or permanent trach, suctioning is an essential aspect of proper care.
Tracheostomy suctioning is a procedure that clears mucus from your trach tube when coughing doesn’t work. A tracheostomy tube fits through and keeps the surgically made hole (stoma) in your windpipe (trachea) open. This allows for alternative breathing when you can’t breathe naturally. People with tracheostomies typically have secretions or mucus. A strong cough is the best way to clear these secretions, but there may be times when you can’t get rid of mucus no matter how hard you try. Trach suctioning can help in these instances.
Healthcare providers can do tracheal suctioning in a hospital or office setting. But they can also teach you how to suction your trach (or your child’s trach) at home. This is important in helping to open the tube so you can breathe effectively.
Tracheostomy suctioning removes thick mucus and secretions from your trachea (windpipe) and lower airway that you can’t clear by coughing. When you have a tracheostomy — or you’re caring for somebody with one — it’s important to look for the following signs that indicate a trach needs suctioning:
First, you’ll need to gather all your supplies:
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Whether you need to suction your own trach or someone else’s, you can do so safely by following a few guidelines.
If you don’t see or hear any more mucus near the trach opening, you’re done. But you might need to suction more than once. If this is the case, you should wait at least 30 seconds before suctioning again. If your suction is clogged, you can use water to help clear it or simply replace the suction catheter with a new one.
If you’ve tried to suction three times with no success, wait 10 minutes before trying it again. However, if you’re in distress and feel short of breath, you may want to call for help or call 911 (or your local emergency services number).
It shouldn’t take long to suction a trach. But it really depends on your comfort level and how many times you need to suction to get rid of all the mucus.
You should routinely suction your tracheostomy twice every day — once when you wake up in the morning and again before you go to bed in the evening. You should also do trach suctioning before you eat and after any respiratory treatments you receive.
Once you’re done suctioning, you’ll need to clean the equipment. To do this:
Learning how to do tracheostomy suctioning at home can reduce office visits and give you the flexibility to maintain your trach tube whenever necessary. Sometimes, thicker secretions or mucus can cause respiratory distress, and suctioning is necessary to improve breathing.
Complications aren’t common but they can occur. Possible risks include:
Call your healthcare provider any time you have questions about tracheostomy suctioning. Let them know immediately if you notice foul-smelling mucus or mucus that’s yellow, green, red or brown. These things could indicate a possible infection.
If you were unable to successfully suction your mucus or feel short of breath despite suctioning, you should call your healthcare provider immediately or call 911 (or your local emergency services number) to be evaluated in your nearest emergency room. Occasionally, if mucus is too thick and can’t be suctioned, your trach tube may need to be replaced.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Living with a tracheostomy comes with certain challenges. Keeping your trach tube free of mucus is one of them. Learning how to suction your trach at home can cut down on office visits and give you more freedom to do the things you love. To find out more about tracheostomy care and suctioning, talk to your healthcare provider.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/12/2023.
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