Tracheitis

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Definition

Tracheitis is a bacterial infection of the windpipe (trachea).

Alternative Names

Bacterial tracheitis; Acute bacterial tracheitis

Causes

Bacterial tracheitis is most often caused by the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus. It often follows a viral upper respiratory infection. It affects mostly young children. This may be due to their tracheas being smaller and more easily blocked by swelling.

Symptoms

Symptoms include:

  • Deep cough (similar to that caused by croup)
  • Difficulty breathing
  • High fever
  • High-pitched breathing sound (stridor)

Exams and Tests

The health care provider will perform a physical exam and listen to the child's lungs. The muscles between the ribs may pull in as the child tries to breathe. This is called intercostal retractions.

Tests that may be done to diagnose this condition include:

  • Blood oxygen level
  • Nasopharyngeal culture to look for bacteria
  • Tracheal culture to look for bacteria
  • X-ray of the trachea or neck
  • Tracheoscopy

Treatment

The child often needs to have a tube placed into the airways to help with breathing. This is called an endotracheal tube. Bacterial debris often needs to be removed from the trachea at that time.

The child will receive antibiotics through a vein. The health care team will closely monitor the child's breathing and use oxygen, if needed.

Outlook (Prognosis)

With prompt treatment, the child should recover.

Possible Complications

Complications may include:

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Tracheitis is an emergency medical condition. Go to the emergency room right away if your child has had a recent upper respiratory infection and suddenly has a high fever, a cough that gets worse, or trouble breathing.

References

Cai Y, Meyer A. Pediatric infectious disease. In: Flint PW, Francis HW, Haughey BH, et al, eds. Cummings Otolaryngology: Head and Neck Surgery. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 201.

Rodrigues KK, Roosevelt GE. Acute inflammatory upper respiratory obstruction (croup, epiglottitis, laryngitis, and bacterial tracheitis).In: Kliegman RM, St. Geme JW, Blum NJ, Shah SS, Tasker RC, Wilson KM, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 412.

Rose E. Pediatric respiratory emergencies: upper airway obstruction and infections. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 167.

Wenzel RP. Acute bronchitis and tracheitis. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 90.

Review Date: 
12/31/2020
Reviewed By: 
Josef Shargorodsky, MD, MPH, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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