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Clin Chest Med. 1991 Sep;12(3):597-609.

Late complications of tracheotomy.

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Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts.


Complications of tracheotomy are largely preventable. Although some authors cite these complications as indications for prolonged endotracheal intubation to avoid tracheotomy, others believe that the laryngotracheal complications of prolonged endotracheal intubation warrant early tracheotomy. Obviously, unnecessary tracheotomies should not be performed, and the controversy regarding the timing of conversion of endotracheal intubation to tracheotomy is handled in an earlier article in this issue. We feel, however, that a properly performed tracheotomy has a low incidence of complications that are more easily managed than are the complex laryngotracheal complications of prolonged endotracheal intubation. Significant post-tracheotomy tracheal stenosis occurs in 8% of patients and is secondary to an overly large tracheotomy stoma or damage at the tracheostomy tube cuff site. Stoma stenosis can be minimized by not making an overly large tracheal stoma and by prevention of undue leverage on the tracheostomy tube. Cuff stenosis can be minimized by the use of the high-volume low-pressure cuffs with careful prevention of overdistention of the cuff. Bronchoscopic dilatation, laser resection, and Silastic T-tube placement provide control of the airway until definitive surgical resection and reconstruction can be performed safely. Tracheoesophageal fistula is an uncommon but life-threatening complication that can be prevented by avoiding overdistention of the tracheostomy tube cuff and by avoiding the concomitant use of a stiff nasogastric tube. These patients are best managed conservatively until they are able to be weaned from a ventilator. A single-stage repair of both the esophagus and the trachea should then be done. Tracheoinnominate artery fistula can be avoided by correct placement of the tracheostomy stoma through the second and third tracheal rings rather than lower in the trachea and by avoidance of overinflation of tracheostomy tube cuffs.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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