Subglottic Stenosis

What is subglottic stenosis?

Subglottic stenosis is a narrowing of the airway below the vocal cords and above the trachea. This disorder involves the narrowing of the cricoid — the only complete ring of cartilage in the airway. Scarring in the larynx just below the vocal cords often causes this narrowing. Subglottic stenosis may also involve the vocal cords and affect your child’s voice.

What are the symptoms of subglottic stenosis?

Symptoms of subglottic stenosis include:

  • Noisy breathing (stridor)
  • Respiratory distress
  • Poor weight gain
  • Blue spells (cyanotic episodes)
  • Recurrent croup or lung infections

What causes subglottic stenosis?

Subglottic stenosis can be present at birth (congenital) or acquired. The cause of congenital subglottic stenosis is unknown.

Acquired subglottic stenosis can develop when scar tissue forms in the trachea due to prolonged intubation, previous airway surgery or both. Intubation occurs when a tube is inserted into the trachea to help maintain breathing during a medical or surgical procedure.

Boys and girls of all ethnic backgrounds are equally at risk for subglottic stenosis.

How we care for subglottic stenosis

Subglottic stenosis is one of the most common abnormalities requiring tracheostomy in children younger than one year of age. However, the clinicians at Boston Children’s Hospital perform this procedure only as a last resort. Instead, our Center for Airway Disorders provides the most advanced minimally-invasive and open-airway procedures available for this condition. Our team approach includes the expertise of specialists from various fields who provide comprehensive assessment, treatment and follow-up care.