Conditions We Treat: Stridor

Stridor, which typically affects children more than adults, may require immediate medical attention. Stridor is an abnormal, high-pitched respiratory sound usually heard best when a person breathes. Learn more about the condition, and how the experienced team at ENT, Sinus & Hearing Care Center can help.


What Causes Stridor?

The condition can be caused by diseases or problems with the anatomical structure of a person’s airway. In children, the upper airway is shorter and narrower and therefore more likely to lead to problems with obstruction. Below are some of the most common causes of stridor.


Congenital Causes

  • Laryngomalacia — parts of the larynx or voice box are floppy and collapse, causing partial airway obstruction. The child will usually outgrow this condition by the time they’re 18 months old. Some children may need surgery.
  • Subglottic stenosis — the larynx becomes too narrow in an area called the subglottic space, an area below the vocal cords. Children with subglottic stenosis are usually diagnosed a few months after birth, especially if the airway becomes stressed by a cold or other virus. The child may outgrow the condition without treatment, but most children with a severe obstruction will need surgery.
  • Subglottic hemangioma — this mass of blood vessels grows quickly in the child’s first few months of life. Signs are usually obvious between ages three and six months. Some outgrow this problem as the hemangioma begins to get smaller after the first year of life. If the obstruction is severe, the child will need surgery.
  • Vascular rings — the trachea or windpipe is completely enclosed by an artery or vein inside the chest. Surgery may be needed.


Infectious Causes

  • Croup — a viral infection that leads to swelling in the airways, especially in the subglottic space (the area below the vocal cords), which results in breathing problems. Most commonly caused by the parainfluenza virus.
  • Epiglottitis — a rare but acute life-threatening bacterial infection that causes swelling and inflammation of the epiglottis (an elastic cartilage structure at the root of the tongue that helps prevent food from entering the windpipe during swallowing). Epiglottis causes breathing problems that can progressively worsen. It may lead to airway obstruction, a medical emergency, if there is such swelling that air cannot get in or out of the lungs. Epiglottitis is usually caused by the bacteria haemophilus influenzae, now rare due to routine vaccination.
  • Bronchitis — an inflammation of the breathing tubes called “bronchi.” Bronchitis causes increased production of mucus and other changes. Acute bronchitis is caused by infectious agents such as bacteria or viruses. It may also be caused by physical or chemical agents — dusts, allergens, strong fumes — and those from chemical cleaning compounds or tobacco smoke.
  • Severe tonsillitis — an inflammation of the tonsils, located in the back of the mouth on the side of the throat. Tonsils help fight infections by producing antibodies.
  • An abscess in the throat — a collection of pus surrounded by inflamed tissue. If the abscess is large, it may narrow the airway critically. These abscesses may be located next to the tonsil or in the soft tissue of the neck surrounding the airway.


Traumatic Causes

  • Neck fractures
  • Swallowing of a harmful substance, such as acid or lye
  • Foreign bodies or objects placed in the mouth — for example, a peanut in the trachea, which may close off breathing passages and can lead to suffocation and death.


How Is Stridor Diagnosed?

Our ear, nose, and throat expert, Dr. Daniel S. Samadi, can typically diagnose stridor with a medical history and physical examination. Because stridor is often a symptom of another underlying problem or condition, other tests may be ordered.

For example:

  • Blood tests
  • Pulse oximetry, which uses a small machine called an “oximeter” to measure the amount of oxygen in the blood. During pulse oximetry, a small, painless sensor similar to a bandage strip is taped onto the finger or toe. When the machine is on, a red light can be seen in the sensor.
  • Sputum culture, a diagnostic test performed on the material that is coughed up from the lungs and into the mouth. A sputum culture can determine if an infection is present.


How Is Stridor Treated?

Methods for treating stridor depend on a number of factors, including the person’s age, medical history, overall health, and the cause and extent of the condition.

A full evaluation helps determine the best approach. Solutions may include:

  • Treatment of the underlying condition
  • Medication by mouth or injection to help decrease the swelling in the airways
  • Scheduled surgery
  • Hospitalization and emergency surgery in some cases, per the severity

If you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms of stridor, our experienced team can provide comprehensive care. Don’t wait. Contact ENT, Sinus & Hearing Care Center to schedule an evaluation today.

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