Most people with a tracheostomy tube will be able to eat normally. However, swallowing food or liquid may feel differently.
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 (a intravenous catheter placed in a vein) or a feeding tube.
Once you have healed from the surgery, your doctor will tell you when it is safe to begin eating solids and liquids by mouth.
When you are ready to begin eating solids or liquids by mouth, a speech therapist will 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 step by step 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 general tips may help with swallowing problems:
Keep mealtime 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.
Preparing the tracheostomy tube:
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 health care provider 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 the following problems occur:
Choking and coughing while eating or drinking
Cough or 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
Seth Schwartz, MD, MPH, Otolaryngologist, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.