If you are taking care of a loved one who has a tracheostomy, then you know how important meticulous care is to help prevent infection. Tracheostomy patients who are hospitalized or in long-term care facilities are strictly monitored under the supervision of doctors and nurses; however, if you are caring for your loved one on your own at home, you may miss some subtle signs and symptoms of infection. Here are three signs of infection that you need to watch for in the tracheostomy patient that you are caring for and what you can do about them:
Increased Sputum Production
When you are performing this care on your loved one, you may notice mucus in his or her airway. While some mucus is normal, copious amounts of viscous, or very thick, secretions may be an indicator of a respiratory infection. Not only can thick mucus secretions be a sign of an infection, or even the cause of one, it can also raise the risk for choking or aspiration.
Suctioning the airway will remove excess mucus, but the reason for the increase in secretions needs to be evaluated by a physician. The doctor may need to take a culture of the airway fluid to determine which type of microorganisms is growing so that an appropriate antibiotic can be prescribed.
Changes In Sputum Color
Sputum is normally white or yellowish, but if secretions turn green, rusty, black, or red, an infection may be present. Alert a physician of these findings so that further evaluation, such as a portable chest X-ray, sputum cultures, and blood tests can be implemented.
Sputum colors other than white, clear, or yellowish are never normal and almost always indicate infection. In the case of pink frothy sputum or red mucus, bleeding in the airway, cardiovascular problems, or lung disease may be present. In addition to a culture, the physician may recommend other diagnostic tests such as a chest X-ray, electrocardiogram, or an echocardiogram, which is an ultrasound of the heart.
Decreased Urinary Output
Fever can diminish urinary output in people with an active infection. An elevated temperature can lead to dehydration, and when this happens, the urine collection bag, if your loved one has one, will contain only scanty amounts of urine.
The urine may also be very dark, concentrated, and resemble tea. Prompt recognition and medical management of the urinary tract infection will help prevent complications such as renal involvement and sepsis. Urinary tract infections are common in people who have tracheostomies and are sometimes the result of poor fluid intake, immobility, and suppressed immune function.
If your loved one exhibits any of the above signs or symptoms, seek medical attention as soon as possible. The sooner signs of infection are recognized and treated, the less likely severe complications such as organ failure will develop. If you are no longer able to care for your loved one who has a tracheostomy, contact a representative from a home care nursing agency, such as Ameristaff Nursing Services, who will provide you with all the resources you need in order to make an informed healthcare decision.