Most people with a tracheostomy tube will be able to eat normally. However, it may feel different when you swallow foods or liquids.
Eating and Tracheostomy Tubes
When you get your tracheostomy tube, or trach, you will not be able to eat right away. Instead, you will get nutrients through an IV (an intravenous catheter placed in a vein) or a feeding tube.
Once you have healed from surgery, your doctor will tell you when it is safe to begin eating solids and liquids by mouth. At this time, a speech therapist will also help you learn how to swallow with a trach.
- The speech therapist may perform some tests to look for problems and make sure you are safe.
- The therapist will show you how to eat and will be able to help you take your first bites.
Certain factors may make eating or swallowing harder, such as:
- Changes in the structure or anatomy of your airway
- Not having eaten for a long period of time
You may not have a taste for food anymore, or muscles may not work well together. Ask your doctor or therapist about why it is hard for you to swallow.
Tips for Eating and Swallowing
These tips may help with swallowing problems.
- Keep mealtimes relaxed.
- Sit up as straight as possible when you eat.
- Take small bites, less than 1 teaspoon of food per bite.
- Chew well and swallow your food before taking another bite.
If your tracheostomy tube has a cuff, deflate the cuff to make it easier to swallow.
If you have a speaking valve, you may use it while you eat. It will make it easier to swallow.
Suction the tracheostomy tube before eating. This will keep you from coughing while eating, which could make you throw up.
When to Call the Doctor
You and your doctor must watch for two important problems:
- Choking and breathing food particles into your airway (called aspiration) that can lead to a lung infection
- Not getting enough calories and nutrients
Call your doctor if any of the following problems occur:
- Choking and coughing while eating or drinking
- Cough, fever, or shortness of breath
- Food particles found in secretions from the tracheostomy
- Larger amounts of watery secretions from the tracheostomy
- Losing weight without trying, or poor weight gain
- Lungs sound more congested
- More frequent colds or chest infections
- Swallowing problems are getting worse
Trach - eating
Dobkin BH. Principles and Practices of Neurological Rehabilitation. In: Daroff RB, Fenichel GM, Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC, eds. Bradley's Neurology in Clinical Practice. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2012:chap 48.
Update Date 2/3/2014
Updated by: Ashutosh Kacker, MD, FACS, Professor of Clinical Otolaryngology, Weill Cornell Medical College, and Attending Otolaryngologist, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, New York, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.