Tracheal Disorders: Symptoms and Causes | Tampa General Hospital

Tracheal Disorders 

The trachea, often referred to as the windpipe, is the part of the respiratory system that connects the larynx (voice box) to the lungs. When working properly, the trachea opens and expands during breathing. However, tumors and inflammation can cause the airway in the trachea to narrow, making it difficult for an individual to breathe. This is referred to as a tracheal disorder. 

There are two main types of tracheal disorders: 

  • Tracheal stenosis – A narrowing of the trachea that prevents the lungs from receiving the air they need 
  • Tracheomalacia – Breaking down of the cartilage in the trachea, causing the structural integrity of the trachea itself to become compromised 

Causes of Tracheal Disorders 

Although the most common cause of a tracheal stenosis is intubation (the insertion of a breathing tube for surgery or another medical procedure), the following are other possible causes: 

  • External throat or chest trauma 
  • Infections 
  • Tumors pressing against the trachea 
  • Radiation 
  • Certain autoimmune disorders such as Wegener’s granulomatosis, sarcoidosis and amyloidosis 
  • Chronic inflammation 

Common factors that can bring about tracheomalacia include: 

  • Damage as a result of surgical procedures performed on the trachea 
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) 
  • Polychondritis (cartilage inflammation in the trachea) 
  • Emphysema  
  • Chronic infections 
  • Damage incurred during a tracheostomy  

Symptoms of Tracheal Disorders 

While not all patients with tracheal stenosis exhibit symptoms, those that do may experience:   

  • Wheezing 
  • Shortness of breath
  • Stridor (high pitched sound while breathing)
  • Bluish tone to the skin 
  • Coughing up blood 
  • Difficulty breathing 

Individuals suffering from tracheomalacia may experience: 

  • Shortness of breath 
  • Chronic cough 
  • Hoarseness 
  • Trouble swallowing food 
  • Noisy breathing 

Diagnosing Tracheal Disorders 

In addition to a physical examination, your healthcare provider may also perform one or more of the following examinations to help identify the presence of tracheal stenosis or tracheomalacia: 

  • Pulmonary function test 
  • CT scan 
  • Bronchoscopy  
  • Dynamic 3D imaging of the chest 
  • Six-minute walk test 
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) 
  • Pulmonary ventilation scan 

Treating Tracheal Disorders 

The otolaryngologists and pulmonologists at Tampa General Hospital offer a full range of treatment options for patients with tracheal disorders. Based on the unique needs of the individual, we may recommend: 

  • Tracheal resection and reconstruction 
  • Stent therapy 
  • Laser therapy 
  • Brachytherapy  
  • Bronchoscopic tracheal dilation