Types of Tracheostomy Tubes

A tracheostomy (trach) tube is a curved tube that is inserted into a tracheostomy stoma (the hole made in the neck and windpipe). There are several different brands of tracheostomy tubes, but all have similar parts. In double-cannula tubes, the inner cannula is inserted and locked in place after the obturator is removed; it acts as a removable liner for the more permanent, outer tube. The inner cannula can be withdrawn for brief periods to be cleaned. The main parts of a double cannula tracheostomy tube are the outer tube (or cannula), the inner tube (or cannula) and the obturator. The obturator is used only to guide the outer tube during insertion and is removed immediately after the outer tube is in place. The outer tube has ties to secure it in place around the child’s neck.

Parts of a Tracheostomy Tube
Single Cannula Silicone Tube

bivona trach tube

Bivona Fome-Cuff Tracheostomy Tube
(Photograph Courtesy of Smiths Medical, Hythe, Kent CT21 6JL. UK)

Parts of a Tracheostomy Tube
Tube with inner Cannula

 parts of a tracheostomy tube

(Photographs from Growing and Thriving with a Tracheostomy
by Ann Marie Ramsey and Colin Macpherson, photography by Joe Welch,
Copyright UMMC 1994-95.)

Many of the smaller plastic tracheostomy tubes do not have an inner tube. They are called single-cannula tubes. For infants and small children, the trach tube is usually a single-cannula plastic tube and is generally not cuffed (even if mechanical ventilation is required). The tube size and type is determined by the doctor depending on the reason for the trach tube as well as the size, age and medical needs of the child.

Tracheostomy tubes can be made of metal, plastic or silicone. Plastic and silicone tubes are increasingly popular because they are lightweight and there is less crusting of secretions.

metal tube

Metal tube with inner cannula and obturator 


Single Cannular Shiley Pediatric Tracheostomy Tube
Obturator at Right

Tracheostomy tubes come in many varieties, including cuffed, uncuffed and fenestrated. A cuff is a soft balloon around the distal (far) end of the tube that can be inflated to allow for mechanical ventilation in patients with respiratory failure. The cuffs are inflated with air, foam or sterile water. There are several types of cuffs. The low volume cuff is similar to a balloon, a high volume cuff is barrel-shaped. The high volume cuff may be better to avoid complications such as stenosis, because it spreads the pressure out, rather than pushing on one spot in the airway. Tight to shaft (TTS) balloons by Bivona are instilled with sterile water. These work well for children who can be off the ventilator at times. When the balloon is deflated, the tube allows air around tube for vocalization. In small children, cuffed tubes may not be needed, however, in older children a low-pressure cuff may be needed to achieve an adequate seal.

For children who are not ventilator dependant, the tracheostomy tube should allow some airflow around the tube to avoid damage to the tracheal wall and to permit speech.


Fenestrated tubes have an opening in the tube that permits speech through the upper airway when the external opening is blocked, even if the tube is too big to allow airflow around the outer cannula. Fenestrated tubes are not recommended for small children, because they can obstruct the opening with granulation tissue. The opening of the hole must be at a correct angle to prevent problems. Also, in an emergency, a solid inner cannula must be inserted in order to ventilate the child through the trach.

Fenestrated Tube Fenestrated tube

A Tracheal Button is a rigid cannula that can be placed into the tracheostomy stoma after removal of a tracheostomy tube. The button does not extend into the tracheal lumen. The tracheal button requires a mature stomal tract, and is generally used as a long-term solution for people with obstructive sleep apnea, which cannot be treated by other means. It is generally kept closed during the day to be unobtrusive, and opened at night to eliminate sleep apnea. Since the tube does not extend far into the airway itself (like a standard tracheotomy tube), it is easy to breath and talk normally with the device in place. It does not need to be opened during the day, since there is no fixed airway obstruction, as in laryngotracheal stenosis. In sleep apnea, the blockage is due to dynamic collapse of the soft tissue of the throat during the muscle relaxation that accompanies sleep.

Flex tube 

Bivona Uncuffed Neonatal and Pediatric FlexTend Silicone Tracheostomy Tubes.

Montgomery T-tubes are often used in adult patients; however, they are less commonly used in the pediatrics.

t-tube t-tube

Sara with a Montgomery t-tube

Tracheostomy tubes can also be custom made according to a child’s unique needs.

Note: Some trach tubes such as Bivona tubes contain metal fibers and must be changed for a plastic tube for MRI tests.

Also see Tracheostomy History for a photograph of an antique tracheostomy tube from the 1800's!
This page updated 7/21/04