Tracheal stenosis happens when you have inflammation or scar tissue in your trachea that makes your trachea narrower and makes it more difficult for you to breathe. There are two types of tracheal stenosis: Acquired or congenital. Tracheal stenosis is treated with surgery to stretch your trachea or remove the narrowed area of your trachea.
Your trachea (windpipe) moves the air you breathe in through your nose and mouth to your lungs. When you have tracheal stenosis, inflammation or scar tissue in your trachea makes it more difficult for air to get through and for you to breathe.
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There are two types of tracheal stenosis: acquired and congenital:
Tracheal stenosis is life-threatening in infants but not as serious in children and adults. That being said, tracheal stenosis makes it hard to breathe, and that can affect your quality of life or your child’s quality of life.
Subglottic stenosis is the narrowing of your airway above your trachea and below your vocal cords.
Many tracheal stenosis symptoms are the same for children and adults. Here are some symptoms children and adults have in common:
Children are more likely to have these symptoms:
Studies show intubation to treat respiratory conditions accounts for more than 60% of tracheal stenosis in adults. Intubation involves inserting a breathing tube into your trachea so you can breathe. You might also develop tracheal stenosis if you:
When infants are born prematurely, their lungs are not fully developed. Healthcare providers use breathing tubes to help premature infants breathe while their lungs develop. Premature infants who need to rely on breathing tubes for a long time might develop tracheal stenosis.
Congenital tracheal stenosis (CTS) is a rare condition that is present at birth.
Healthcare providers use several tests to diagnose tracheal stenosis and decide how to treat it. Those tests might include:
Pulmonary Function Test. Providers will ask you to complete several tasks, such as walking for 6 minutes, so they can see how your trachea responds when you are active.
Tracheal stenosis is usually treated with surgery. Healthcare providers consider several factors before deciding on your treatment options. Those factors include:
Common surgical treatments include:
Tracheal resection and reconstruction surgeries are more likely to eliminate the narrowing in your trachea. Other treatments such as bronchoscopic tracheal dilation and trachea airway stents are often temporary solutions that sometimes become permanent.
Unfortunately, the most common cause of tracheal stenosis is intubation, which is a life-saving medical treatment that can’t be anticipated or avoided.
Tracheal stenosis is usually treated with surgery. Each surgery has different recovery times and recommended activities. If you’re having surgery for tracheal stenosis, ask your healthcare provider about post-operative care.
Yes, tracheal stenosis can come back, particularly if you have treatment with complications such as an overgrowth of the new tissue and blood vessels that help heal any damage treatment might cause.
Acquired tracheal stenosis, unlike congenital tracheal stenosis, typically isn’t life-threatening. There are several surgical treatments that eliminate or ease tracheal stenosis symptoms.
You might start by asking your healthcare provider how your surgery will affect you. Every surgery to treat tracheal stenosis will have different post-surgery care. Your healthcare provider will have information about your next steps.
Your healthcare provider will schedule follow-up appointments to check on your recovery from surgery and to check your trachea.
You should go to the emergency room if you can’t breathe or have other tracheal stenosis symptoms. The symptoms might be a sign your tracheal stenosis has come back.
Tracheal stenosis is a serious condition that often develops from a medical condition or treatment for a medical condition. If you develop tracheal stenosis, you might want to ask your healthcare provider the following questions:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Intubation — inserting a tube down your throat to help you breathe — is a life-saving treatment. Unfortunately, intubation is the primary cause of tracheal stenosis or the narrowing of your trachea that makes it difficult for you to breathe. (Medical conditions including autoimmune disorders and respiratory infections can also cause your trachea to become narrower.) But you don’t have to live with tracheal stenosis symptoms. Healthcare providers have several treatment options. Talk to your healthcare provider about your options to ease your tracheal stenosis symptoms so you can breathe freely.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/05/2021.
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