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Tracheitis – Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

What is Tracheitis?

Tracheitis is in inflammation of the trachea or the windpipe due to a bacterial infection commonly the Stphylococcus aureus bacteria. It is commonly affecting young children owing to the small size of their trachea that is susceptible to be blocked by the inflammation. The bacterial build up in the trachea can cause airway obstruction which may be life threatening.


Acute tracheitis occurs suddenly and higher in morbidity and mortality rate. The most common among children is the sub-acute tracheits.

Trachea is also known as windpipe which is part of the airway system that is responsible for air exchanges in the body. Trachea branches to right and left bronchi which are attached or connected to the lungs. It is located in front of the neck and it comprised of cartilage and ligaments. It is an important part of airway system that any damage to it could seriously impair respiration process and may be life-threatening.

Tracheitis Symptoms

Symptoms of tracheitis may come suddenly or may progress slowly. The presentation of tracheitis varies and may be acute or sub-acute. Common symptoms are:

  • Dry cough characterized with barking sound and usually preceded recent episode of upper respiratory infection
  • Itchy sensation in the throat is experienced
  • Onset of high fever
  • Stridor or high pitched breathing sound can be heard which can occur abruptly or worsening
  • Breathing is difficult
  • Headache
  • Dizziness or feeling of light headedness
  • Cyanosis
  • Sore throat
  • Chest pain
  • Respiratory distress in varying degrees such as retraction, dyspnea and nasal flaring
  • Drooling often due to difficulty in breathing
  • Patient may experience lethargy
  • Feeling of discomfort in supine position
  • Pain while breathing

Tracheitis Causes

Tracheitis is an emergency situation and needs immediate medical attention due to inflammation of the trachea causing airway obstruction. The condition may be contagious depending on the causative agent and how the bacterial infection is harbored. The common causes of tracheitis are:

Bacterial Infection

The most common bacteria that cause tracheitis are Staphylococcus aureus. The infection commonly occurs after a recent episode of upper respiratory tract infection. Tracheitis however, may also be caused by other microorganism such as Moraxella catarhallis which is said to be the leading cause of bacterial tracheitis. Infection from Haemophillus influenza type B is less common due to the introduction of Hib vaccine. Viral infection may also cause tracheitis.

Medical Condition

There are underlying conditions which may contribute to tracheitis and these include:

  • Laryngitis – defined as the inflammation of the mucus lining of the larynx which is located on the upper part of the respiratory tract.
  • Acute Bronchitis – inflammation of the bronchioles of the lungs often from viral infection or upper respiratory infection.
  • Chronic Bronchitis – a progressive and recurring inflammation of the lungs often due to long-term damages such as smoking.

Cigarette Smoking

Cigarette smoking may cause chronic bronchitis which can lead to tracheitis. Tissues in the respiratory tract tend to degenerate progressively and scar which may harm the respiratory tract thereby increasing the risk of bacterial or viral infection leading to tracheitis.

Allergy

Allergic reaction of the body may lead to edema or collection of fluid in the respiratory tract which may then constrict respiratory process. The onset of allergic reaction is often sudden that emergency treatment is needed.

Obstruction from Foreign Bodies or Substance

Lodging of foreign particles may cause swelling or inflammation of the upper airways thereby obstructing breathing pattern and requires immediate medical attention. This is also the same with inhaling toxic substances which can irritate the lining of the respiratory tract. Breathing tubes inserted for medical purposes may also lead to inflammation or swelling as a reaction to irritation.

Tracheitis is life-threatening and needs immediate or emergency medical attention regardless of the cause that inhibits inflammation of the trachea.

Tracheitis Treatment

The goal of treating tracheitis is clearing airway obstruction. It is the priority of management as the condition is life-threatening. Treatment may include:

  • Provision of adequate airway through breathing intubation such as endotracheal tube.
  • Frequent suctioning and maintenance of high air humidity to restore patency of endotracheal tube that helps in providing air to the patient.
  • Intravenous insertion is necessary to introduce medication after stabilizing the patient.
  • Antibiotics and penicillin are often prescribed to treat bacterial or viral infection.
  • Cough medicines are also given to patient to control and treat tracheitis.

The first sign of tracheitis should be managed immediately and accordingly to prevent the condition from worsening. Proper regimen must be followed strictly. Tracheitis is life-threatening and should therefore be attended to immediately.

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