Stridor

ADAM Health 3 minute read November 4, 2019
Adam Health

Breathing sounds – abnormal; Extrathoracic airway obstruction; Wheezing – stridor

Stridor is an abnormal, high-pitched, musical breathing sound. It is caused by a blockage in the throat or voice box (larynx). It is most often heard when taking in a breath.


Considerations

Children are at higher risk of airway blockage because they have narrower airways than adults. In young children, stridor is a sign of airway blockage. It must be treated right away to prevent the airway from becoming completely closed.

The airway can be blocked by an object, swollen tissues of the throat or upper airway, or a spasm of the airway muscles or the vocal cords.


Causes

Common causes of stridor include:


Home Care

Follow your health care provider’s advice to treat the cause of the problem.


When to Contact a Medical Professional

Stridor may be a sign of an emergency. Call your provider right away if there is unexplained stridor, especially in a child.


What to Expect at Your Office Visit

In an emergency, the provider will check the person’s temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure, and may need to do abdominal thrusts.

A breathing tube may be needed if the person can’t breathe properly.

After the person is stable, the provider may ask about the person’s medical history, and perform a physical exam. This includes listening to the lungs.

Parents or caregivers may be asked the following medical history questions:

  • Is the abnormal breathing a high-pitched sound?
  • Did the breathing problem start suddenly?
  • Could the child have put something in their mouth?
  • Has the child been ill recently?
  • Is the child’s neck or face swollen?
  • Has the child been coughing or complaining of a sore throat?
  • What other symptoms does the child have? (For example, nasal flaring or a bluish color to the skin, lips, or nails)
  • Is the child using chest muscles to breathe (intercostal retractions)?

Tests that may be done include:

References

Kost S. Stridor. In: Selbst SM, ed. Pediatric Emergency Medicine Secrets. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 26.

O’Handley JG, Tobin EJ, Shah AR. Otorhinolaryngology. Rakel RE, Rakel DP, eds. Textbook of Family Medicine. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 18.

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