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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 vocal cords.
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:
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 include:
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.
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:
Your doctor may also order tests, such as:
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.
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:
Contact your doctor immediately if you see:
Written by: Natalie Phillips
Medically reviewed on: Apr 14, 2017: University of Illinois-Chicago, School of Medicine
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