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Breathing and Tracheostomy

A normal breathing pattern draws air through the nose or mouth into the trachea and then the lungs. The lungs take in oxygen from the air when inhaling and eliminate carbon dioxide when exhaling. Breathing may become difficult because:

  • There is an obstruction or narrowing in the windpipe or throat.
  • Your child has difficulty getting rid of mucus and secretions.
  • Your child has been on a ventilator for a long time.

If any of the above occurs, your child may need a tracheostomy to breathe.

What is a Tracheostomy?

A tracheotomy--also called stoma--is a small incision made through the neck and into the trachea. A tracheostomy tube keeps this hole open so air can enter into the trachea and lungs. The tracheostomy tube is commonly referred to as a "trach." The trach is made of plastic and is available in different sizes depending on your child's needs.

The Importance of Humidity

Before entering the lungs, oxygen from the air is warmed and moistened when it passes through the nose and mouth. Humidity also loosens any secretions in the trachea. When a child has a tracheostomy, this does not occur. Therefore, humidity is replaced with a tracheostomy collar or disposable humidity device. Disposable humidity devices should not be used if your child is receiving oxygen.

Your Child's Breathing Rate

Sometimes, it will be necessary to count the number of times your child breathes per minute. This is called the "respiratory rate." To count, you will need a watch or clock with a second hand. Place your hand on your child's chest and when the second hand reaches the 12, begin counting each time your child breathes. Stop counting when the second hand reaches the 12 again. The number you get is your child's respiratory rate.

Infants normally breathe between 32 to 44 times each minute. Children older than age 2 breathe about 20 to 24 times each minute. The rate may vary depending on your child's condition. Talk with your child's doctor about what a normal respiratory rate is for your child. It is normal for your child to breathe slower during sleep and faster with strenuous activity or fevers.