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Airway Disorders

Airway Disorders Symptoms and Causes

Airway disorders refer to disorders and diseases of the airway passage from the top of the voice box down to the trachea, such as:

Reactive Airway Disorder — a general term that doesn't indicate a specific diagnosis. It refers to a patient's history of coughing, wheezing or shortness of breath of undetermined cause. Reactive airway disorder is often used interchangeably with asthma, even though the two are not necessarily the same. The confusion also arises from the difficulty of accurately diagnosing asthma before the age of 6.

Glottic stenosis — narrowing of the larynx at the level of the vocal cords (glottis) caused by webbing, fibrosis (hardening of connective tissue) or scarring

Sub-glottic stenosis — partial or complete narrowing of the sub-glottic area, the narrowest area of the airway

Tracheal stenosis— narrowing or constriction of the trachea (windpipe), the airway that leads from the larynx (voice box) to the bronchi (airways that lead to the lungs)

Airway Disorder Symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath—the most common symptom
  • Breathing difficulties—either from a congenital defect or as a result of a medical procedure
  • Chronic cough or throat clearing
  • Talking difficulties
  • Swallowing problems

Airway Disorder Causes:

  • Reactive airway disease—The most common triggers for this airway disorder are allergies and infections from viruses such as colds and other germs. Other triggers include:
  • Dust and mold, mildew
  • Weather changes
  • Smoke (cigarette, wood burning)
  • Pollens, trees and grass
  • Strong odors or perfume
  • Pets
  • Too much physical activity
  • Stress and emotions

Glottic stenosis—The most common reason the larynx narrows at the level of the vocal cords is prolonged endotracheal intubation. This is a medical procedure in which a tube is placed into the windpipe (trachea) in order to open the airway to give oxygen, medication or anesthesia or to remove blockages and help with breathing.

Sub-glottic stenosis—This airway disorder can be genetic or acquired. In the 1960s, the incidence of acquired sub-glottic stenosis began to rise dramatically among newborns because of the increased survival of low-birth-weight infants and the increased use of intubation.

Tracheal stenosis—This airway disorder can develop from a number of causes, including:

  • External injury to the throat
  • Malignant tumor presses on the windpipe
  • Side effect of radiation
  • Infections
  • Autoimmune disorders such as:
    • polychondritis—an uncommon chronic disorder of the cartilage characterized by recurrent episodes of inflammation of tissues containing cartilage, such as the windpipe
    • sarcoidosis—inflammation of the body's organs such as the lungs, skin and/or lymph nodes
    • papillomatosis—an airway disorder in which tumors grow in the air passages leading from the nose and mouth into the lungs (respiratory tract)
    • amyloidosis—a disorder in which abnormal proteins build up in tissues and organs
    • Wegener's granulomatosis —a rare disorder in which blood vessels become inflamed, making it hard for blood to flow