Child holding trach tube after decannulation

Sydney examines her trach tube just after decannulation.

Decannulation - The removal of a cannula: in the case of children with trachs, the removal of the tracheostomy tube. Decannulation depends on the reason for the trach tube and the course of treatment for the particular diagnosis or condition for which the trach tube was placed. Once the reason for the tube is resolved, decannulation can be attempted (usually is a hospital setting under the care of an otolarnygologist). For most children, a tracheostomy is temporary. The child may ’outgrow’ the problem or the problem can be surgically corrected.

Some Procedures for Decannulation

Sleep studies in the hospital setting are often ordered after downsizing or with trach capped to be sure apnea is not present.

Accidental Decannulation

See Tracheostomy Complications.


stoma after decannulation

Clara's Stoma just after Decannulation

More on Decannulation

Michael Rothschild, MD
Pediatric Otolaryngology
Mount Sinai Medical Center

"The following discussion describes a general approach to patient management, and is not meant to recommend treatment for any specific patient. Every patient is different, and requires the personal attention of his or her own health care provider."

There are essentially two reasons for a tracheotomy tube: lung disease and airway obstruction. Patients with lung disease may need the tube for attachment to a mechanical ventilator or to allow suctioning of secretions. Patients with obstruction may have narrowing of the airway between the vocal cords and the tube (such as subglottic stenosis) or have collapse of the throat above vocal cords (such as severe obstructive sleep apnea).

At some point, the condition for which the tube was placed may have resolved, and decannulation (removal of the tube) is desired. If the tube was placed for airway obstruction, it is typical to give the patient a "dry run" by putting in a smaller tracheotomy tube ("downsizing") and plugging it for a period of time. This allows the patient to breath normally through the nose and mouth, around the plugged tube. If the obstruction has not sufficiently resolved, or if there is new obstruction related to the tube itself (such as a granuloma or collapse- see below) the patient can easily be unplugged at any time, maintaining a safe airway. This is commonly done after surgery to treat the primary obstruction, such as laryngotracheoplasty to expand a stenotic subglottis, or surgery on the upper throat (e.g. uvulopalatopharyngoplasty) to treat obstructive sleep apnea. Once a period of healing has taken place and the surgical swelling has resolved, the patient may be slowly and safely moved towards decannulation in this fashion.

Other patients with airway obstruction may have narrowing that extends down to the tracheotomy site itself, requiring reconstruction of the trachea right next to the tracheotomy tube. In this case, or in other cases of less severe subglottic stenosis, a single stage laryngotracheoplasty may be performed. This operation combines the expansion of the narrow airway and the removal of the tube into one procedure, so there is no separate decannulation. Of course, this is somewhat riskier, since if the expansion is unsuccessful, there is no tracheotomy tube in place to secure a safe airway, and the patients may need an emergency intubation or replacement of the tracheotomy itself.

If decannulation is planned after ensuring that the airway is sufficiently enlarged, or if the lung disease has resolved, there are several options. In adults- especially those who have had their tracheotomy tubes for relatively short periods of time- the tube may be simply removed and the hole allowed to close by itself. This generally happens in a few days. If the tube has been present for a long time, the hole may not close completely, and a small pinhole may be left after a month or so. This may then require a small procedure to remove the skin lining the tract (which prevents closure) and allow the hole to close.

In all patients with a tracheotomy, the tube pushes on the trachea immediately above the hole, causing the front wall of the trachea to collapse into the airway above the tube. This is known as "suprastomal tracheomalacia". Also, most patient with tracheotomy tubes have a suprastomal granuloma- a small mass of inflammatory tissue above the tracheotomy site- that the body produces in response to the foreign body (the tube). For older children or adults, the collapse and the granuloma represent small percentages of the airway diameter and should not complicate decannulation. For smaller children, the collapse or the granuloma may be enough to prevent decannulation, even if the primary reason for the tracheotomy has been successfully treated. In such cases, "surgical decannulation" may be necessary. This operation involves placing a breathing tube (endotracheal tube) through the nose or mouth after removing the tracheotomy tube, removing the skin lining the path of the tube, removing the granuloma, and then suturing the collapsing front wall of the trachea forward to allow healing of the tube site. The patient is kept in an intensive care unit, and the endotracheal tube is removed after a day or two.

This page updated 8/1/03