Obstruction of the upper airway causes a characteristic noise called stridor. Stridor literally means noisy breathing. It can occur due to obstruction of the airway at multiple levels. It may be heard during inhalation, exhalation, or both phases of breathing, depending on the location of the obstruction. The obstruction can be above the vocal cords (supraglottic), at the level of the vocal cords (glottic), or below the vocal cords (subglottic) and into the trachea.

Stridor may occur in both adults and children, and there are a multitude of causes. Some causes are more serious than others, but any airway obstruction can be potentially serious or even life-threatening. For this reason, patients with stridor should be evaluated by an Otolaryngologist as soon as possible.

Common causes of pediatric stridor include: laryngomalacia, vocal cord paralysis, laryngeal cysts, croup (laryngotracheobronchitis), hemangiomas, laryngopharyngeal reflux, tracheomalacia, infections in the upper airway, and subglottic stenosis. If your child has stridor, it will often require an evaluation in the operating room to make an adequate diagnosis. Your Ear, Nose, and Throat specialist will perform a procedure called a bronchoscopy, where a telescope is placed through your child’s mouth to visualize the voice box (larynx) and trachea. This is done under anesthesia and is usually an outpatient procedure.

Common causes of stridor in the adult include: tumors (benign and malignant), vocal cord paralysis, subglottic stenosis, tracheomalacia, and infections in the upper airway.

If either you or a family member has stridor, make an appointment with your Otolaryngologist as soon as possible.

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