Tracheostomy Complications

WHAT IS A TRACHEOSTOMY?

A tracheostomy is a medical procedure that involves creating an opening in the neck in order to place a tube into a person’s windpipe. The tube is inserted through a cut in the neck below the vocal cords. This allows air to enter the lungs. Breathing is then done through the tube, bypassing the mouth, nose, and throat.

A tracheostomy may be performed for many different reasons. It may be done on an emergency basis if your airway is blocked, or it may be done because of a disease process or other problem that makes normal breathing impossible.

A tracheostomy may be either temporary or permanent.

COMMON COMPLICATIONS

While rare, there are complications which can result from the negligent performance of a tracheostomy. These include: (1) damage to the thyroid gland in the neck; (2) erosion of the trachea; and (3) lung puncture.

Complications that may occur later include: (1) accidental removal of the tracheostomy tube; (2) infection; and (3) damage to the windpipe. These complications can usually be prevented or quickly dealt with by well trained caregivers.

A clean tracheostomy site, good tracheostomy tube care and regular examination of the airway will minimize the occurrence of many complications.

DISLODGED TRACHEOSTOMY TUBE

One of the most common complications occurs when the tube becomes dislodged. A dislodged tube can quickly become a life threatening complication. Every patient with a tracheostomy should have the following equipment available at bedside: spare tracheostomy tubes (same size and one size smaller), tracheal dilator (only to be used by experienced personel), self inflating bag, catheter mount, suctioning equipment, and humidification equipment.

When a tube is dislodged, the nurse or caregiver should urgently summon a physician. A patient with a dislodged tube should also be given immediate manual ventilation, and suction with a solution of sodium chloride. Once this is done, to prevent brain damage the nurse should immediately deflate the tracheostomy cuff and take out the tracheostomy tube.

Further attempts at ventilation through the tube should be avoided. If the tube has become dislodged, air can be forced into surrounding soft tissue rather than the lungs, leading to a host of complications from tracheal compression to emphysema.

If the tracheostomy is new, only a physician should reinsert the tube. A a nurse or caregiver should never attempt to re-position the tube. This is because it takes time for the tract to form, and re-positioning before the tract has formed can lead to complications as severe as those caused by the failure to act.

Unfortunately, human error involving accidental or inadvertent removal of the tracheostomy tube or in the failure to properly recognized or treat a dislodged tracheostomy may cause an anoxic event – a severe form of oxygen deprivation leading to brain damage or death.

WAS THERE NEGLIGENCE?

Like most medical procedures, tracheotomies do carry a degree of risk, and not all complications and errors rise to the level of medical malpractice. In order to prove that medical malpractice occurred, you must be able to show that the medical provider did something that was inappropriate or failed to provide the accepted standard of care or treatment, and you were seriously harmed as a result.

If you are living with complications from a displaced trachea, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries. To discuss your specific situation with an experienced medical malpractice lawyer, call for a free consultation. Our knowledgeable legal team is ready to help fight for the compensation that you deserve.