Stridor is a high-pitched, wheezing sound
caused by disrupted airflow. Stridor may also be called musical breathing or
extrathoracic airway obstruction.
Airflow is usually disrupted by a blockage in
the larynx (voice box) or trachea (windpipe). Stridor affects children more
often than adults.
There are three types of stridor. Each type
can give your doctor a clue about what is causing it.
In this type, you can only hear the abnormal
sound when you breathe in. This indicates an issue with the tissue above the
People with this type of stridor only
experience abnormal sounds when they breathe out. Blockage in the windpipe
causes this type.
This type causes the abnormal sound when a
person breathes in and out. When the cartilage near the vocal cords narrows it
causes these sounds.
Stridor may be caused by:
object blocking the airway
in your throat or upper airway
to the airway, such as a fracture in the neck or an object stuck in the
nose or throat
a harmful substance that causes damage to the airway
- croup, a viral respiratory infection
- bronchitis, an inflammation
of the airways leading to the lungs
- tonsillitis, an inflammation
of the lymph nodes at the back of the mouth and top of the throat by
viruses or bacteria
- epiglottitis, an inflammation
of the tissue covering the windpipe caused by the H. influenza bacterium
a collection of pus or fluid
In infants, a condition
called laryngomalacia is usually the cause of stridor. Soft
structures and tissues that obstruct the airway cause laryngomalacia. It often
goes away as your child ages and their airways harden. It may be quieter when
your child is lying on their stomach, and louder when lying on their back.
Laryngomalacia is most noticeable when your child is about 6 months old. It may
start as soon as a few days after birth. Stridor usually goes away by the time
your child is 2 years old.
Other conditions that may cause stridor
- Subglottic stenosis is when the
voice box is too narrow. Many children outgrow this condition, though surgery
may be necessary in severe cases.
- Subglottic hemangioma is when a
mass of blood vessels forms and obstructs the airway. This condition is rare
and may need surgery.
- Vascular rings occur when an outer
artery or vein compressed the windpipe. Surgery may release the compression.
is at risk for stridor?
Children have narrower, softer airways than
adults do. They’re much more likely to develop stridor. To prevent further
blockage, treat the condition immediately. If the airway is completely blocked,
your child won’t be able to breathe.
is stridor diagnosed?
Your doctor will try to find the cause of you
or your child’s stridor. They’ll give you or your child a physical examination
and ask questions about medical history.
Your doctor may ask questions about:
- the sound of the abnormal
- when you first noticed the
- other symptoms, such as a blue
color in your face or your child’s face or skin
- if you or your child has been ill
- if your child could have put a
foreign object in their mouth
- if you or your child is
struggling to breathe
Your doctor may also order tests, such as:
- X-rays to check you or your child’s
chest and neck for signs of blockage
- CT scan of the chest
- bronchoscopy to provide a clearer view of the airway
- laryngoscopy to examine the voice box
- pulse oximetry and arterial blood
gases test to measure the amount of oxygen in the blood
If your doctor suspects an infection, they’ll
order a sputum culture. This test
checks material you or your child cough up from the lungs for viruses and
bacteria. It helps your doctor see if an infection, such as croup, is present.
is stridor treated?
Don’t wait to see if stridor goes away
without medical treatment. Visit your doctor and follow their advice. Treatment
options depend on the age and health of you or your child, as well as the cause
and severity of the stridor.
Your doctor may:
- refer you to an ear, nose, and
- provide oral or injected
medication to decrease swelling in the airway
- recommend hospitalization or
surgery in severe cases
- require more monitoring
is emergency care necessary?
Contact your doctor immediately if you see:
- a blue color in you or your
child’s lips, face, or body
- signs of difficulty breathing,
such as the chest collapsing inward
- weight loss
- trouble eating or feeding