Tracheitis is a bacterial infection of the windpipe (trachea).
Bacterial tracheitis is most often caused by the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus. It often follows a viral upper respiratory infection. It affects mostly young children. This may be due to their tracheas being smaller and more easily blocked by swelling.
Exams and Tests
The health care provider will perform a physical exam and listen to the child's lungs. The muscles between the ribs may pull in as the child tries to breathe. This is called intercostal retractions.
Tests that may be done to diagnose this condition include:
- Blood oxygen level
- Nasopharyngeal culture to look for bacteria
- Tracheal culture to look for bacteria
- X-ray of the trachea or neck
The child often needs to have a tube placed into the airways to help with breathing. This is called an endotracheal tube. Bacterial debris often needs to be removed from the trachea at that time.
The child will receive antibiotics through a vein. The health care team will closely monitor the child's breathing and use oxygen, if needed.
With prompt treatment, the child should recover.
Complications may include:
- Airway obstruction (can lead to death)
- Toxic shock syndrome if the condition was caused by the bacteria staphylococcus
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Tracheitis is an emergency medical condition. Go to the emergency room right away if your child has had a recent upper respiratory infection and suddenly has a high fever, a cough that gets worse, or trouble breathing.
Bacterial tracheitis; Acute bacterial tracheitis
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Review Date 11/29/2022
Updated by: Josef Shargorodsky, MD, MPH, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.