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Tracheostomy Tubes at Coventry’s Ventilator Unit: Options and Choices
Adam J. Ross, CRT
At Coventry Skilled Nursing & Rehabilitation’s ventilator unit we utilize a plethora of
tracheostomy tubes with our patients. There are many different styles, models, designs, and sizes to
consider. Careful and comprehensive assessments must be made prior to providing a new or different
tube for a patient. The objective is to provide for our patients an apparatus that will help facilitate the
attainment of their individual long-term goals while minimizing complications.
Subacute ventilator units will see a wide variety of patients. There are long-term patients who
will spend the rest of their lives under our care. There are occasionally short-term patients who may be
able to be weaned from their breathing machine within weeks to months. Some of our patients will be
guided to a full recovery; leaving our building without any tubes at all. Some others may only be able to
partially recover and end up going home with a tracheostomy.
With such a diverse population of pathologies and prognoses it is important for the clinical care
team to have an adequate array of devices to utilize. Every make and model has slight nuances that can
make or break a patient’s progress or continued stability1, 3
. Different sizes, materials, shapes, and other
design features need to be carefully considered prior to insertion; depending on the individual’s
diagnoses, prognoses, and reason for needing a tracheostomy their ideal device can vary wildly1,3,4
The most common patient ventilator status we see, by a wide margin, is a chronic and non-
weanable individual. These patients have diagnoses ranging from progressive neuromuscular disorders
(ALS, e.g.) to decades old strokes that have kept them in an unresponsive persistent vegetative state
since the original incident took place. Some of our chronic ventilator patients simply have poor airway
maintenance and only utilize the breathing machine at night, but require the tube so that care providers
can suction their trachea out routinely. Some can swallow, some can speak, and some can do neither. As
we can see, even among the same subset of patients there are needs that differ greatly from one
The most common tube we see upon admission is a Shiley DCT. This thick-walled, rigid tube is a
great choice for long-term ventilator or tracheostomy patients, especially if the only concern is to
provide a table and patent airway. However, the Shiley tube’s dimensions can make it difficult for a
patient to undergo speech and swallow trials5
. Its Inside Diameter (ID) to Outside Diameter (OD) ratio
produces a tube that takes up a lot of space within the patient’s airway thus restricting flow and often
preventing progression or phonation5
. Despite its drawback the tube continues to be a popular choice
for stable, long-term tracheostomy patients due to its rugged construction and ease of care.
Another popular routine tracheostomy tube we utilize and admit patients with is the Portex DIC.
Similar in shape to the aforementioned Shiley tube, the Portex has a significantly smaller OD to a given
ID. These tubes can be used to provide an airway for a patient who has been identified as potentially
progressive and some quality of life goals have been initiated. While slightly more flexible and lighter
than Shileys, Portex tubes are still considered a standard and routine appliance.
The third and final tube we have been utilizing regularly within the facility is the Bivona TTS. This
silicone tube is soft, comfortable, utilizes water instead of an air cuff, and has multiple benefits for many
of our patients over the standard tubes. The “Tight to Shaft” cuff allows us to provide atraumatic tube
changes as needed while permitting increased flow around the tube and out of the mouth during
periods of cuff deflation4,5
. Studies have shown that usage of the Bivona TTS has produced improved
outcomes in terms of how quickly a weanable patient can begin speaking5
. Use of this tube has also
decreased incidents of tube malposition, hemorrhage, and can even help heal ongoing stoma infections
and complications seen with typical Polyvinyl Carbonate (PVC) tube construction in some patients5,6,7
We have had many different types of tubes used as well. Some of our patients have required
special order tubes that require our care team to design everything from the type of material to the
length of the shaft and placement of the cuff. While we strive to standardize as much as we can, people
can have amazingly different anatomical anomalies, material sensitivities, and tolerances. Very often a
long-term patient’s needs change; having a tracheostomy tube for long periods of time changes your
anatomy slowly among other known risks and complications.
While our top three most used tubes have proven to be adequate for most of our patient
population, there will still be individuals whose needs surpass what can be taken from routine supplies.
One thing that has made Coventry’s Ventilator Unit so successful has been early recognition of an
apparatus’ insufficient or improper usage and a team effort to devise and implement a strategy to
quickly replace it with something more suitable.
Sometimes the better strategy can be as simple as doing routine tube changes less frequently to
prevent irritation or trauma. Regardless of a tube’s construction, studies show that a tracheostomy tube
can last up to 90 days before requiring replacement2
. This means that, for some patients, we are
exposing them to less chance of injury or undue discomfort by changing a perfectly fine apparatus
excessively. This is also a cost-saving idea as some of the less common tubes are much more expensive
than our standard devices; 12 tubes a year versus 4 tubes a year is a big difference for patients with
strained coverage or facility’s with a limited budget.
In conclusion it is paramount that ventilator and tracheostomy units be able to provide for their
patients the devices needed to survive, progress, and maintain their statuses. Different patients have
different needs and to try and limit tracheostomy tube availability to a few routine models is ill-advised
and will negatively impact outcomes. People come in all shapes and sizes; there is a reason
tracheostomy tubes do to.
 Dean L. Cuffed vs. Uncuffed Trachs: Ask the Experts
 Backman S. et. al. Material wear of polumeric trachestomy tubes: a six-month study.
 Hess D. Tracheostomy Tubes and Related Appliances. April 2005, Respiratory Care Vol. 50 No. 4
 Kacmerack B. Tubes and Trachs A to Z: MGH Powerpoint
 McCracken J. & Leasa D. Trach tubes designed to maximize safety may increase risk to ventilated
 Dean L. Changing Tracheostomy Tube Material and Utilizing Silicone Dressings Healed This Stoma – A
 Iodice F. et. al. Tracheobronchial haemorrhage in patients with neuromuscular disorders