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Swimming With a Tracheostomy

By MekaSeay Jones

If you enjoy swimming but have a tracheostomy, or tracheotomy, you do not necessarily have to forgo this activity. A tracheostomy is a medical procedure characterized by surgically creating a hole in the throat to provide direct access to the trachea, or windpipe, when normal breathing is impaired. With medical clearance and specialized equipment, you can swim with a tracheostomy, though it may be dangerous.

About Tracheostomies

A tracheostomy incision is kept open and functional by inserting a specially fitted tracheostomy tube directly into the trachea, which allows patients to breathe without using their mouth or nose. The tracheostomy tube is attached using tracheostomy tube ties and hook and loop straps. Post-surgery care includes using saline solution and suctioning equipment to keep the area clean and remove unwanted mucus or saliva. If blood is present at the tracheostomy site, contact your doctor immediately as this could indicate serious complications. Swimming immediately after a tracheostomy is ill-advised because the body hasn’t been given sufficient time to adjust to the equipment.

Tracheostomy and Swimming

Swimming with a tracheostomy generally is not recommended by doctors. Tracheostomy patients must use specialized swimming equipment that prevents water from being ingested through the stoma, or incision site. Physicians often advise tracheostomy patients to avoid swimming without using proper equipment because water can travel directly to the lungs. Inhaling water significantly increases your drowning risk, so consult your doctor before swimming with a tracheostomy.

Tracheostomy Swimming Equipment

Specialized equipment designed for swimming with a tracheostomy includes an apparatus that attaches to the stoma site and suctions water away from the tracheostomy tube as well as a stoma cap. Some public swimming pools require tracheostomy patients to obtain and provide medical clearance before gaining permission to use the swimming facilities. In some instances, tracheostomy patients must sign a waiver releasing the facility from all legal liability before swimming.

Dangers

The main threat of swimming with a tracheostomy is water aspiration, which is the introduction of liquids or solids into the trachea instead of the esophagus. The risk of aspiration greatly increases when swimming with a tracheostomy because of the tracheostomy tube’s placement. Because the tube is located below the pharyngeal, or gag, reflex, water can easily enter the lungs without any physical attempts to prevent it. Pediatric tracheostomy patients are more likely to aspirate water and should not be permitted to swim. Aspiration can cause stoma site infection, serious brain trauma or death.

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