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Head and Neck Surgery - How to prevent?

Head and Neck Surgery - Diagnosis

Head and Neck Surgery - Post-surgery care

Recovery Room

After your operation, you will be taken directly to the recovery room. Your blood pressure, breathing and heart rate will be checked frequently.

Please inform the nurse if you are feeling nauseous or experiencing any pain, so that medication could be given to relieve your discomfort.

You may also be put on patient-controlled analgesia (PCA) to help you control your pain. Your anaesthetist would explain to you before the surgery on the use of the patient demand button.

When you are awake and your blood pressure and pulse have stabilised, you may be transferred to the Intensive Care or High Dependency Care Unit.

Medical and Nursing Care in the Inpatient Care Units

Nursing Care

In the ICU, you will see some equipment by your bedside. These are used to monitor your heart, respiratory rate, blood pressure and the oxygen saturation. A team of doctors and nurses will take care of you and also answer any questions you may have.

You may be nursed in the ICU for about one to two days. The length of stay may vary depending on the rate of your recovery. Please inform your family members that the visiting hours for ICU is similar to the general wards - 12 noon to 2 pm and 5 pm to 8.30 pm. However, the number of visitors will be restricted to two visiting you at the bedside. When your condition has stabilised, you will be moved to the High Dependency area of the general ward.

Relief of Post-Surgery Discomfort

You will experience some pain at the site of your surgery. Medication will be given to you to relieve any pain or discomfort. The medication may be administered through any one of the following methods:

  • Injections
  • Patient Controlled Pumps
  • Epidural - where medication is released through a fine catheter inserted into your back
  • Tablets
  • Tracheostomy

A tracheostomy (small opening in the trachea at the front of the neck) is usually performed as part of the operation to facilitate excision of cancerous tissues and reconstruction of jaw or oral cavity. A tracheostomy tube is inserted to maintain a clear airway and to facilitate suction of secretion. This tube will be removed when the wound has healed in one to two weeks.

Wound and Skin Care

The dressing over your wound will be removed 24 hours after the surgery and the wound must be kept clean and dry. Drainage tubes will be inserted near the operation site to prevent any accumulation of fluid or blood in the wound. These tubes will gradually be removed when the amount of fluid has decreased.


You will not be allowed to eat or drink through your mouth for at least a week or two to allow the wound to heal. An intravenous drip will be inserted into your hand or arm for one or two days to provide you with adequate fluid and medication to keep you comfortable. Feeds will be given through a nasogastric tube that is inserted via the nose into your stomach on the second or third day after surgery, to ensure that you have adequate nutrition.

If you experience any difficulty in swallowing, the Speech Therapist will assist you to regain your swallowing ability. Initially, you will only be able to drink and consume soft food.

Elimination Need

A urinary catheter may be inserted into your bladder during the operation, to assist you in passing urine and also to monitor your urine output. You may experience an urge to urinate with the tube in position, even though your bladder is empty. The catheter will be removed once you are well enough to attend to your own toilet needs.

You may have to pass motion using a bedpan in bed if you have not started ambulation. Please inform the nurse if you require any assistance.

Deep Breathing

It is not easy to breathe deeply and cough after surgery, due to the discomfort that may result from your incision. The Physiotherapist will assist and teach you to perform deep breathing and coughing exercises. This is to help you cough out any secretions that may have collected in your airways during surgery, to prevent any chest infection from developing.


You will not be able to speak immediately after the operation because of the tracheostomy and surgery. You may wish to communicate by sign language or through writing. Pen and paper will be provided.

You speech may also be impaired as the surgery involves the oral cavity, tongue or jaw. The Speech Therapist will help you to overcome the problem during your recovery period.


While lying in bed, you will need to turn on your sides and move your legs at least once every two hours. Such activity helps to stimulate circulation and speed up your recovery.

The level of activity will be increased slowly and by the fifth day, you may be allowed to sit on a chair by the side of the bed. The Physiotherapist will assist you to resume walking in preparation for your discharge from the hospital.

Length of Stay

The average length of stay for patients undergoing head and neck surgery is usually between five to fourteen days. However, the length of stay may vary with each individual.

Discharge Instructions

The following discharge instructions will help you to take care of yourself during your recuperation at home.


You should:

  • sit up during the day and sleep in a propped up position using two to three pillows.
  • avoid putting any pressure on the operated site.
  • Consume a soft diet for four weeks.
  • Take your medications as prescribed by your doctor.
Wound Care
  • Keep the steristrip dressing on the neck wound dry and intact.
  • Apply olive oil to the exposed donor area three times a day.
  • Clean the tracheostomy with cooled boiled water, then apply dry dressing daily until the wound is healed.
Oral Care

You should:


  • practise good oral hygiene.
  • rinse your mouth with gargle after each feed and meal.
When to consult the doctor

Seek medical consultation with your surgeon at the SGH Specialist Outpatient Clinic, if any of the following conditions occurs:

  • an increased pain, bleeding or discharge from the wound
  • you have a fever of 38°C and above
  • you notice an adverse change in the colour of the flap to a pale, reddish or bluish colour
  • you notice a separation of flap
  • you experience difficulty in swallowing
  • any other abnormal and/or prolonged symptoms which cause concern
Follow Up Appointment

Report to the Doctor on the appointment date and time.

Head and Neck Surgery - Other Information