Teach Caregivers the Proper Steps for Suctioning at Home

Teach Caregivers the Proper Steps for Suctioning at Home

Caregivers are likely excited to bring their loved one home after what may have been a lengthy hospital stay, but caring for a patient with a tracheotomy tube comes with a host of responsibilities once their their loved one has been discharged.

Teaching caregivers the proper steps and reasons for suctioning the tracheotomy tube will help them understand why they’re doing it, when they should do it and how to do it successfully for the continued proper care of their loved one at home. In fact, physicians and critical care nurses can make home transition smoother for their patients when they provide the education and training needed for caregivers to suction tracheotomy tubes properly at home.

Teach caregivers why suction is needed

Caregivers should understand the need for continued suctioning at home including why they’re performing this critical task. Educate caregivers that the tracheotomy tube doesn’t warm, clean and moisten the air in the same way as when we breathe normally, which results in the body producing more mucus. Suctioning, therefore, is critical to clear that mucus from the tube and help their loved one breathe. Mucus left in the tube also puts the patient at a risk for chest infections. And importantly, suctioning too frequently also poses a problem since more secretions are likely to build up. Once caregivers understand their duty and the fine line between proper suctioning and suctioning too frequently, they’ll be set up for success. [1]

Teach caregivers when to suction

Suctioning is crucial to help prevent a buildup of mucus from blocking the tracheotomy tube and impairing or stopping breathing. Teach caregivers that suctioning must be done when the patient asks for it, as well as at other critical times including:

  • In the morning when the patient wakes up [1]
  • Anytime there is a rattling or gurgling noise in the tube or airway [2]
  • Anytime there is a vibration when you place your hand on the patient’s chest [2]
  • When there is an increased respiratory rate or the patient is having difficulty breathing, is short of breath or wheezing [2]
  • You can see secretions in the tube or tubing [2]
  • Before meals [1]
  • Before going outdoors [1]
  • Before sleep [1]

When to seek help

Caregivers should be trained and educated about the color of normal secretions (clear or white), and must be informed about when to seek help if secretions change color. Yellow, brown or green secretions could indicate infection and should not be persist for more than three days without a call to the physician. Likewise, if caregivers have trouble keeping secretions clear and notice a significant secretion increase, they should call for advice. If secretions look pink or red, there may be blood present, and increasing humidity and suctioning more gently can help. Teach caregivers to have the patient sit inside a closed bathroom with a hot shower running, which can instantly increase humidity. Bright red mucus and fever are not normal and caregivers should call the physician immediately. [1]


  1. Tracheostomy Service, Suctioning. John Hopkins Medicine. Cited 2018 June. Available at https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/tracheostomy/living/suctioning.html
  2. Hamilton Health Sciences Patient Education. Going Home with a Tracheostomy. Cited 2018 June. Available athttps://www.hamiltonhealthsciences.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/CaringForYourChildsTracheostomyTube.pdf