Objective: To evaluate and discuss the use of transtracheal oxygen catheters for the treatment of chronic hypoxemia and to discuss the complications associated with the placement and care of these devices. Design: We conducted a retrospective study at a tertiary medical center and reviewed the pertinent literature. Material and Methods: The medical records of 56 patients who received a transtracheal oxygen catheter between January 1987 and June 1992 at our institution were reviewed for demographic data, diagnosis leading to catheter placement, complications related to catheter use, reason for catheter removal, and duration of use. Follow-up results were established by documentation in the medical records or telephone interview. Results: During the study period, 39 men and 17 women received a transtracheal catheter. More than half the patients (52%) had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The duration of use of the catheter ranged from 2 days to more than 6 years, and the most frequent cause for removal of the catheter was death. Of the 56 patients, 42 died with the catheter in place, 24 within the first year after placement. Complications ranged from mucous plugging (38% of patients) to pneumothorax (4%), and no patient died of a catheter-related complication. Overall, 55% of patients had their catheter for less than 1 year after placement. Conclusion: In patients with transtracheal oxygen catheters, problems related to mucous plugging are common, but severe complications such as pneumothorax and pneumomediastinum are uncommon. Although selection factors that would identify ideal candidates for transtracheal oxygen therapy have not been established, such a catheter is best placed in highly motivated patients who can physically manage the daily care of this device.
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