Trachea is a medical name for windpipe. It is a cartilaginous tube with a diameter of one inch and length of about 4 to 6 inch. The air we breathe in and out passes through trachea from the lungs. At its lower end trachea divides into two branches called bronchi connecting the lungs.
Infection of trachea is uncommon condition, but when it develops the most probable pathogen involved is bacteria, namely staphylococcus bacteria. Infection of trachea results in inflammation of the inner lining of the tracheal tube. In medical parlance the condition is referred as tracheitis. This infection is less common in adults as compared in children.
Tracheal infection need immediate medical attention, as the swelling of the tracheal passage can block airflow which may endanger life of a person.
Possible Causes Of Tracheal Infection
Certain types of bacteria are mainly responsible for infection of trachea. The most common pathogen among them is staphylococcus bacteria. Other bacteria such as streptococci and hemophilus influenza may also lead to tracheitis in some cases.
Usually infection of trachea is secondary to infection of the upper respiratory tract infection such as cold and influenza. After cold and flu, bacteria make an easy entry into the larynx and trachea leading to internal swelling of the tube.
Inflammatory changes within trachea can block the airflow either partially or completely. Tracheal infection is more common in children because the length of trachea in them is short. Thus it makes easy for the bacteria to invade tracheal tissues. Tracheal infection can also affect adults but the probability of blockage is much less.
Signs And Symptoms Of Tracheal Infection
Tracheal infection usually occurs after a bout of upper respiratory tract infection. The symptoms in the beginning are same as cold and flu such as mild fever, pain in throat, running nose, dry cough etc. But after few days the condition worsens and the internal lining of trachea may swell. This may lead to obstruction of the airflow which may be partial or complete.
During this period patient may present with following symptoms:
- Dry and hacking cough.
- Pain below the sternum.
- Patient feels difficulty to breathe due to swelling of the tracheal lining.
- There is typical sound called “Stridor”. It is high pitched sound caused due when air has to be forced inside while breathing. This sound is audible to the people surrounding the patient.
- To inhale and exhale patient has to apply force which causes nasal flaring.
- Eating and swallowing is painful. This occurs because the food pipe and wind pipe are adjacent with one another.
- Short and rapid breathing.
- Due to obstruction patient may suffer from cyanosis where the skin, nail, lip and tongue becomes blue. It occurs due to lack of oxygen flow to the lungs.
Stridor or labored breathing indicates the seriousness of the disease. It needs immediate treatment as this can threaten the life of the patient.
Treatment Options For Tracheal Infection
The main aim of treatment is to reduce inflammation and treat the infection. Viral infection usually does not require any treatment, although supportive measures are useful to enhance healing process. Bacterial infection needs to be treated with antibiotics.
In severe bacterial tracheitis, intravenous antibiotics may be needed. In some cases cough suppressants are useful to control irritating cough. To reduce severe inflammation where patient has labored breathing, steroids may be helpful. Adults should stop smoking.
Tracheal infection that is life threatening will need endotracheal intubation. In this procedure, a tube is placed into the trachea. The other end is attached to the ventilator through which air passes in and out of the lungs. Such patients need hospitalization for treating the condition.
Supportive measures such as bed rest, intake of plenty of fluids, use of humidifier will ease the recovery process of the patient. These measures are especially valuable in case of viral infection.