Tracheal Stenosis

Tracheal stenosis refers to abnormal narrowing of the trachea that restricts your ability to breathe normally. The trachea is also commonly known as the “windpipe.” Tracheal stenosis can also be referred to as subglottic stenosis. The subglottis is the narrowest part of the airway and many stenoses (or narrowings) occur at this level of the air passageway.

Causes of Tracheal Stenosis

Most commonly tracheal stenosis is a result of an injury or illness such as:

  • Trauma to the throat or chest
  • Infections (viral or bacterial), including tuberculosis
  • Autoimmune disorders such as sarcoidosis, papillomatosis, granulomatosis and amyloidosis
  • Tumors, benign and malignant
  • Radiation therapy to the neck or chest

Symptoms of Tracheal Stenosis

  • Shortness of breath that is gradually worsening
  • Respiratory sounds (stridor) which may sound like wheezing
  • Frequent bouts of pneumonia or upper respiratory infections
  • A blue color in the skin or mucous membrane of the mouth or nose

Diagnosis of Tracheal Stenosis

A medical evaluation including a health history and special testing will help your otolaryngologist diagnose the cause of your tracheal stenosis. One or more of the following tests may be ordered:

  • Lung functioning test
  • CT-scan of both your neck and chest
  • Chest X-ray
  • Endoscopic procedure (bronchoscopy or laryngoscopy)
  • Biopsy to check on the malignancy of any tumors or lumps

Read about lung function tests.

Treatment for Tracheal Stenosis

Your otolaryngologist will create a treatment plan based on the results of your evaluation. Treatment options, some of which are done using minimally invasive techniques, include:

  • Laser surgery, which can remove scar tissue, if that is the cause of the stenosis. This provides short-term relief but usually isn’t a long-term solution.
  • Airway stenting, called tracheobronchial stenting, where a mesh-like tube keeps the airway open.
  • Widening of the trachea, or tracheal dilation, where a small balloon or dilator is used to expand the airway. This also may not be a long-term solution.
  • Full tracheal resection and reconstruction, which may provide long term relief. The damaged section of the trachea, windpipe, is removed and the remaining ends are joined.

What You Should Expect

You will receive a thorough diagnostic examination to evaluate if you have tracheal stenosis and determine what course of treatment is needed. Careful monitoring and the involvement of an experienced otolaryngologist are important to the successful outcome for patients with ear, nose and throat disorders and conditions.

If you are having surgery or a procedure, you will likely be scheduled for a visit to the Weiner Center for Preoperative Evaluation for pre-operative information and tests.

The day of surgery, you will be taken care of in the operating room by otolaryngologist, anesthesiologists and nurses who specialize in surgery for patients with tracheal stenosis. After surgery, you will go to the post-surgical care unit where you will receive comprehensive care by experienced surgical and nursing staff.

Learn more about your hospital stay, patient-centered care and returning home.

Multidisciplinary Care

Brigham and Women’s Hospital provides a multidisciplinary approach to patient care by collaborating with colleagues who have extensive experience in diagnosing and treating ear, nose and throat disorders and conditions. In addition, patients have full access to BWH’s world-renowned academic medical community, with its diverse specialists, and state-of-the-art facilities.

Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery Appointments and Locations


Learn more about tracheal stenosis and your respiratory system in our health library.

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