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Definition:

Acquired tracheomalacia is a weakness and floppiness of the walls of the windpipe (trachea) that develops after birth.

See also: Congenital tracheomalacia



Alternative Names:

Secondary tracheomalacia



Causes, incidence, and risk factors:

Acquired tracheomalacia is very uncommon. Rarely, babies, infants, and adults may develop the condition. It occurs when normal cartilage in the wall of the windpipe begins to break down.

Acquired, or secondary, tracheomalacia may result:

  • From pressure on the airway by large blood vessels
  • As a complication after surgical repair of a tracheo-esophagela fistula or esophageal atresia
  • After having a breathing tube or tracheostomy for a long time


Symptoms:
  • Breathing problems that get worse with coughing, crying, or upper respiratory infections
  • Breathing noises that may change with position and improve during sleep
  • High-pitched breathing
  • Rattling, noisy breaths


Signs and tests:

A physical examination confirms the symptoms. A chest x-ray may show narrowing of the trachea when exhaling. Even if the x-ray is normal, it is needed to rule out other problems.

A procedure called a laryngoscopy provides the definitive diagnosis. This procedure allows the otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat doctor, or ENT) to see the structure of the airway and determine how severe the problem is.

Other tests that may be performed include:

  • Airway fluoroscopy
  • Barium swallow
  • Bronchoscopy
  • CT scan
  • Lung function tests
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)


Treatment:

The condition may improve without treatment, but persons with tracheomalacia must be monitored closely when they have respiratory infections.

Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) may be necessary for adults with respiratory distress. Rarely, surgery is needed. A stent may be needed to hold the airway.



Complications:

Aspiration pneumonia can occur from inhaling food contents.

Adults who develop tracheomalacia after being on a breathing machine often have serious lung problems.



Calling your health care provider:

Call your health care provider if you or your child breathes in an abnormal manner. It can become an urgent or emergency condition.



References:

Rahbar R, Healy GB. Congenital disorders of the trachea. In: Cummings CW, Flint PW, Haughey BH, et al, eds. Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 4th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2005:chap 191.




Review Date: 5/11/2009
Reviewed By: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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789 Central Avenue, Dover, NH 03820
Phone: (603) 742-5252
Toll free: 1 (877) 201-7100