Airway strictures, also called airway stenosis, are an obstruction of the trachea (airway or windpipe) due to constriction or narrowing of the passageway. Airway strictures affect an individual’s ability to breathe and cough up secretions in the lungs.

Symptoms of Airway Strictures

Symptoms of airway strictures include:

  • Wheezing
  • Feeling short of breath
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Coughing
  • Fatigue
  • Recurrent respiratory infections

Causes of Airway Strictures

When airway strictures are present at birth, these are referred to as congenital. When airway strictures develop later in life, they can appear due to:

  • Endotracheal intubation: Endotracheal intubation uses a plastic tube to maintain an open airway and help administer oxygen to individuals who need critical care and cannot breathe by their own means. Over time, this treatment can cause scarring in the windpipe that leads to blockage.
  • Trauma or injury
  • Cancer
  • Scarring from a previous surgery
  • Recurring respiratory infections
  • Neuromuscular disease

What to Expect at Your Appointment

During your appointment, your doctor will ask you to describe your symptoms as well as any noticeable changes in these symptoms over the past months or even years. In addition, your doctor may want to conduct a physical examination for signs of respiratory distress. In order to make a diagnosis, your doctor may prescribe various tests, including:

  • Imaging tests: Imaging tests, such as x-ray imaging studies, and CT scans produce detailed images of the structures of the airway. These images allow physicians to detect abnormalities in the windpipe.
  • Endoscopy: An endoscopy is a type of procedure that uses an endoscope, a special instrument that allows physicians to view the airway. An endoscope is a flexible tube with a light and a camera on the end that is carefully fed through the mouth, then the esophagus, and into the airway.
  • Bronchoscopy: An endoscopic procedure that allows physicians to view and examine the airways and the lungs.
  • Laryngoscopy: An endoscopic procedure that allows physicians to view and examine the larynx (voice box) and the back of the throat.

Non-Surgical Treatments for Airway Strictures

If the airway stricture is not symptomatic or is not causing severe health complications, physicians may choose to monitor the stricture. If the stricture is severe, it may be necessary to correct the obstruction surgically. Treatment options recommended for airway stricture will vary depending on the location of the stricture and the severity of the blockage.

Surgical Treatment for Airway Strictures and Post-Treatment

Surgical treatment for airway strictures is aimed at removing the structure that is causing the blockage and/or widening the airway. Types of surgery used to treat airway stenosis include:

  • Balloon dilation: Balloon dilation is a minimally invasive procedure that requires no incisions. This procedure involves placing a balloon into the airway and inflating it in order to widen the passageway. Once the airway is stretched, the balloon is removed.
  • Airway reconstruction: Airway reconstruction procedures are generally performed using an open technique, making one long incision to access and repair the airway.

Make an Appointment

For an appointment with a specialist, call 202-877-3627.