Complete Tracheal Rings

What are complete tracheal rings?

A normal trachea (windpipe) has many rings made of cartilage (a strong and flexible tissue). These rings are C-shaped and support the trachea but also allow it to move and flex when your child breathes.

Complete tracheal rings are a birth defect in these rings that causes them to be O-shaped instead of C-shaped. This can result in airway stenosis — an abnormal narrowing of your child’s windpipe. The number of rings in the trachea varies from 16 to 20. This defect in the cartilage can affect one or many of those rings.

What are the symptoms of complete tracheal rings?

Some children with complete tracheal rings may show mild respiratory issues at first, while others may be in serious respiratory distress. Symptoms of a narrowed airway (stenosis) caused by complete tracheal rings include:

  • noisy breathing (stridor)
  • wet-sounding breathing
  • recurring pneumonias
  • wheezing
  • cyanosis (blue spells)
  • apnea (pauses in breathing)
  • chest congestion

What causes complete tracheal rings?

Complete tracheal rings are a rare disorder that is present at birth. It is usually associated with other abnormalities of the heart or lungs. It may also be associated with Down syndrome and Pfeiffer syndrome.

Tracheal rings can also be associated with a condition in which the pulmonary artery (the artery carrying blood from the right ventricle of the heart to the lungs) wraps around the trachea and causes a narrowing of the opening.

How we care for complete tracheal rings

Although mild cases of complete tracheal rings may not require surgery, more severe cases can seriously interfere with your child’s breathing and require immediate treatment. The Center for Airway Disorders at Boston Children's Hospital is specifically designed to care for children with this rare condition. Our team provides the most advanced testing and treatment available.