Decorative image

After your breathing stoma surgery

A stoma is a hole (opening) made in the skin in front of your neck to allow you to breathe. It is at the base of your neck. Through this hole, air enters and leaves your windpipe (trachea) and lungs.

You can see when and how you might have a stoma in our surgery section. 

There are different types of breathing stomas. Your doctor can tell you which stoma you will have. 

You might have a temporary stoma if you keep your voice box after surgery. Or a permanent stoma if your voice box is removed during surgery.  

Waking up with a stoma

Waking up to find you are breathing through a hole in your neck can be quite a shock. Even if you were expecting it, you might feel frightened and angry.

Your doctor discusses all aspects of this with you before your operation. It’s very important that you understand what will happen to you, so feel free to ask questions. The doctors and nurses looking after you expect you to have questions and want to reassure you as much as they can.

After having your whole voice box removed (laryngectomy)

After having your whole voice box removed, a tube is put into your stoma at first. This keeps your new airway open.

The tube is taken out once your stoma heals. This may take a few weeks. Your stoma then stays open on its own.

Your stoma is now your airway. You breathe and cough through it. It is very important that you know how to look after your stoma.

Before you leave hospital

Before you leave hospital, it is important that you feel confident about how to look after your stoma. Your physiotherapist and nurses teach you about this before you go home. But once you are at home, things can seem very different. You might feel lost outside the safety of the hospital.

Ask as many questions as you need while you are still in hospital. Also practise looking after the stoma and tubes as much as you can. It helps if someone you live with or see regularly also learns what you have to do.

Even if you manage very well in hospital, don't feel bad if you don't feel quite as confident when you get home. You have had a lot of information to take in. The nurses understand if you need to call the ward for advice. Your stoma nurse will arrange to visit you at home to check how you are getting on.

Last reviewed: 
27 Jul 2018
  • The Royal Marsden Manual of Clinical Nursing Procedures

    L. Dougherty and S. Lister, 9th edition, 2015

  • Principles and Practice of Head and Neck Surgery and Oncology 

    P. Montgomery and others, 2nd edition, 2009

Information and help