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Laryngotracheal Stenosis (Airway Obstruction)

What is laryngotracheal stenosis?

While the majority of breathing issues are caused by lung problems, sometimes there is a problem with the air passing through the throat or voice box into the lungs. In this situation, patients often make a high-pitched noise during breathing called stridor. This high-pitched breathing sound is often confused with wheezing.

What causes laryngotracheal stenosis?

There are a number of problems that can cause an airway obstruction leading to stridor, including a mass obstructing the airway, tracheal stenosis and vocal cord immobility.

A benign or cancerous tumor or an inflammatory or infectious growth can cause an obstruction of the airway. When scar or inflammatory tissue builds up in the voice box or trachea, it can narrow your breathing passage. This can occur following placement of a breathing tube, after throat trauma, as a result of an autoimmune disease or the cause can be unknown. If both of your vocal folds do not move, then they do not open during breathing and can restrict the airflow through the voice box.

Laryngotracheal Stenosis Treatment

If you are having trouble breathing at the time of you exam, urgent intervention, such as administration of medication or even admission to the hospital, may be needed to ensure your safety.

Depending on the results of your examination, you may require further workup in the form of scans, blood work or biopsies.

Many different treatment options are available depending upon your diagnosis.

  • A mass obstructing the airway: A biopsy if often needed, and treatment depends upon the diagnosis.

  • Voice box or tracheal stenosis: While medications can sometimes be used to slow or reverse an inflammatory process that is causing voice box or tracheal airway obstruction, surgery is often needed to open up the airway to improve your breathing.

  • Vocal cord immobility: Treatment depends upon the cause of the vocal cord immobility but often requires surgery to open up your airway.

Reviewed by Alexander Hillel, M.D., from the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery.

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