A tracheostomy changes the way you eat and drink. While it’s still possible to drink alcohol after the procedure, there are risks and your healthcare team may not recommend it.

A tracheostomy is a procedure that offers you breathing support. When a tracheostomy tube is inserted into your trachea for breathing support or mechanical ventilation, it can complicate the flow of other substances — like food and drink — through your throat.

Eating and drinking are still possible with a tracheostomy, but there are specific considerations to keep in mind. This article explores how and when you can drink with a tracheostomy tube, and whether alcohol can be a part of your meal planning.

Drinking fluids is possible with a tracheostomy but it may not be for everyone.

There are risks to consuming any oral liquids with a tracheostomy. There are also risks to drinking alcohol, even without a tracheostomy. You will likely be advised to consult your medical team before drinking alcohol — or any liquids for that matter — after a tracheostomy.

When it comes to alcohol specifically, it’s highly unlikely that your healthcare team will support alcohol consumption after a tracheostomy.

As a whole, alcohol use is not recommended as a part of a health-promoting diet. Whether or not you drink alcohol at all is a personal choice.

The biggest risk drinking alcohol after a tracheostomy poses is aspiration.

Aspiration happens when liquids that are meant to be swallowed down your esophagus and into your stomach go down your trachea and into your lungs instead. Research shows 45–86% of people with tracheostomies aspirate the liquids they drink, and 83% of them don’t know it’s happening (silent aspiration).

Aspiration of fluids — whether those fluids are saliva, water, or even alcohol — can cause problems in your lungs like pneumonia and infection.

On its own, drinking alcohol can lead to various health risks, including cardiovascular disease and mental health or substance misuse concerns.

With a tracheostomy, you may have other health problems or take certain medications that further increase the health risks associated with alcohol use.

Even drinking water with a tracheostomy tube takes some time and preparation.

The post-operative care you receive after tracheostomy placement, the reason you needed a tracheostomy tube, and your long-term outlook all play a role in how well and how soon you can take food or drink by mouth.

Eating and drinking after a tracheostomy is usually permitted after some time of healing and testing by a speech language pathologist.

Swallowing tests can help determine how well you’re able to pass liquids from your mouth to your stomach without getting any into your lungs. This can be difficult for people with various swallowing disorders, but especially for people with a tracheostomy.

It’s a misconception that inflation of a tracheostomy cuff can completely prevent aspiration.

These cuffs create a seal in the airway and can reduce the amount of food or drink aspirated, but aspiration technically happens when materials pass below the level of the vocal cords. This means that any food or liquid that reaches a tracheostomy cuff has already been aspirated. At most, an inflated cuff is thought to delay the movement of fluids to the lungs.

If you have a tracheostomy tube, your medical team and a speech language professionals will evaluate you before you’re cleared to have any food or drink by mouth.

Swallowing tests to see where the fluids you drink are going will done first. A speech therapist will help you with swallowing exercises and special swallowing techniques to help prevent aspiration.

Your healthcare team or speech therapist may make additional recommendations about food or drink restrictions based on how well you’re able to swallow.

Any liquid that passes into your airway or your lungs can be a breeding ground for bacteria and infection, so be cautious about what fluids you’re potentially passing into your lungs.

Generally, people with a tracheostomy start with small sips of water or thickened liquids, and move on to soft and bite-size foods before resuming a regular diet.

It’s possible to live a long and full life with a tracheostomy, but there are some changes you may need to make.

To support living a health-promoting life with a tracheostomy, it’s important that you know:

  • what kinds of activities to avoid
  • what to do if your tracheostomy falls out or becomes dislodged
  • how to clean and care for your tracheostomy tube and trach site
  • how and when to suction your tracheostomy tube
  • when to call your doctor

It’s also helpful to know that you may be able to have a tracheostomy reversed in time. This involves completely removing the tracheostomy tube and closing of the tracheostomy site (stoma).

Having a tracheostomy tube will require you to make some lifestyle changes, including the way you eat and drink. A tracheostomy creates a new opening in your throat. It’s important to remember that even without having a tracheostomy, it’s already easy for fluids and air to mix and go the wrong way.

A tracheostomy can increase your risk of aspirating fluid into your lungs, so it’s important to be mindful of what types of fluids you’re consuming.

Alcohol is not recommended and may cause additional complications if aspirated or because of any other health problems you have or medications you’re taking.

You can consult your healthcare team about your specific health needs, medications, and what amount of alcohol intake may be safe for you.