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Need for Tracheal Humidification

Kevin Cleary

A tracheostomy allows patients to breathe properly with the help of a ventilator, but this can lead to the thickening of secretions and mucous plugs, making lung function less efficient. Our nose and mouth provide moisture as we breathe, but for those with a tracheostomy this is bypassed. In order to provide warm, moist air in these cases we must artificially create warm, moist air. The benefit of humid air is that it keeps mucus secretions thin while also avoiding mucous plugs. Understanding the anatomy of a tracheostomy will lead to a better understanding of how to get warm, moist air into our lungs.

Tracheal Anatomy

Need for Tracheal Humidification

How exactly does a tracheostomy work? Well, a tracheostomy is a surgical incision in the throat in order to place a tube into the trachea in order to allow for a respirator or some other form of breathing aid to assist in normal breathing. This procedure can be either temporary or permanent depending upon the reason for the tracheostomy. A tracheostomy is also known as a stoma and is usually placed below the vocal cords. The reasons for a tracheostomy can be varied and may include:

  • Cancer in the neck or throat area
  • Chronic lung disease
  • Birth defects
  • Paralysis (spinal cord injury or paralysis to the muscles needed for swallowing)
  • Tumors

As you can imagine these are life-changing events that can be serious and/or severe. In order to live successfully with a tracheostomy, it is important to do everything possible to minimize any negative side effects.

How Does Humidification Help?

One of the side effects of bypassing the nose or mouth is that supplemental oxygen tends to be dry and cool. This can lead to thicker secretions and mucous plugs which, as you can imagine are hindrances to the breathing process. By introducing tracheal humidification, secretions can be kept thin and minimize the need for suction. If your tracheostomy is temporary you may experience a small scar upon removal, but a permanent tracheostomy will require a little more in-depth therapy. There will be a learning curve when it comes to experiencing life with your tracheostomy. You should work with your doctor or respiratory therapist or even occupational therapist to help you adapt. You should use a moisture and heat exchanger to simply and easily introduce warm, moist air into the lungs. Options available to tracheostomy patients include:

Smiths Medical Portex Thermovent Heat and Moisture Exchanger
Smiths Medical Portex Thermovent Heat and Moisture Exchanger
  1. CareFusion Hydro-Trach T Heat and Moisture Exchanger: This addition to a tracheal tube traps moisture during exhalation in the fibers of the heat and moisture exchanger. The inhaled cooler, dry air now passes through this fiber membrane reusing the exhaled warmth and moisture from the patient. This is an ideal product for prolonged use in spontaneously breathing patients and has a suction port that is available with or without oxygen tubing. The introduction of lower humidification can keep secretions thin and has a compressible volume of 17 mL with a weight of 6.7 g. This is easily installed on the end of a breathing tube or tracheostomy tube.

Need for Tracheal Humidification
Smiths Medical Heat and Moisture Exchanger
  1. Smiths Medical Thermovent T Heat and Moisture Exchanger: By capturing heat and moisture during exhalation, this heat and moisture exchanger allows the user to inhale warm, moist air during inhalation. The low-profile design is a deal for spontaneously breathing patients who have a tracheostomy tube. The inhalation of warm, moist air keeps secretions thin, while minimizing the risk of mucous plugs. This heat and moisture exchanger should be changed every 24 hours or sooner if secretions block the exchanger. The clear housing allows for easy observation for clogging and offers the user an economical, easy option for tracheal humidification.

By understanding how our body reacts to cool, dry air can go a long way in avoiding breathing and health complications down the road. By creating a warm moist environment for breathing, excretions should stay thin and minimize mucous plugs that can block airways. Work with your doctor, physical therapist, or even respiratory therapist to create a plan to help you be easier!!


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HPFY Kevin Cleary

Kevin Cleary

Kevin Cleary has been a Health Products For You contributor for many years and has a degree in marketing. His health and wellness journey has a very personal meaning and has guided him in his content writing for HPFY.

In 2006, ...

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