What is bacterial tracheitis?
Your trachea is also known as your windpipe. It’s an important part of your
body’s airway system. When you inhale air through your nose or mouth, it
travels through your larynx, or voice box, and down your trachea. Your trachea
branches into two tubes, called your bronchi, which deliver air to your lungs.
In addition, your trachea allows carbon dioxide-rich air to leave your body
when you exhale.
Tracheitis is an infection of your trachea. When caused by bacteria, it’s
known as bacterial tracheitis. This condition is rare and typically affects young
children. If it isn’t treated quickly enough, it can lead to life-threatening
What are the symptoms of bacterial tracheitis?
If your child develops bacterial tracheitis, it will likely happen after
they’ve contracted an upper respiratory infection (URI), such as the common
cold. Their initial symptoms may include cough, runny nose, and low-grade
fever. After two to five days, they may develop more symptoms of infection and
airway obstruction. These can include:
- high fever
- deep severe cough
- difficulty breathing
- nasal flaring
- cyanosis, a blue tinge to their skin
Your child may also develop stridor. This is a high-pitched sound when they
breathe. It’s often a sign of a serious infection and partial airway obstruction.
This can be life threatening.
If you or your child develops any of these symptoms, seek medical
What causes bacterial tracheitis?
Bacterial tracheitis is usually caused by Staphylococcus aureus bacteria.
Other bacteria can also cause it, including:
- Streptococcus pneumonia
- Hemophilic influenza
- Moraxella catarrhalis
Most cases of bacterial tracheitis develop after a common cold or flu. Following
an URI, bacteria can more easily invade your child’s trachea. This can cause
infection, inflammation, and rapid swelling. Because of the small size and
position of your child’s trachea, even mild swelling can quickly block their airway.
Although bacterial tracheitis can also affect adults, it tends to develop more
slowly in them. If you developed it, the infection may resolve on its own before
your airway becomes obstructed.
How is bacterial tracheitis diagnosed?
Your child’s doctor will use a physical exam to diagnose bacterial
tracheitis. They will likely listen to your child’s breathing for signs of
respiratory distress. To help confirm their diagnosis and rule out other possible
causes of their symptoms, your child’s doctor may order additional tests. These
- A nasopharyngeal culture, which is a sample of
secretions from the uppermost part of your child’s throat to test if
bacteria are present.
- A tracheal culture, which is a sample of secretions
from your child’s trachea.
- Blood tests to measure your child’s level of blood
- An X-ray of your child’s airways to see if any
inflammation, swelling, or infection exists.
- Endoscopy, which is a nonsurgical procedure that
allows your child’s doctor to view the throat using a thin tube with a
How is bacterial tracheitis treated?
Your child’s doctor will give them antibiotics to kill the bacteria causing
their infection. They will likely administer these drugs intravenously.
Your child’s doctor will also focus on clearing your child’s airway. They
may need to insert an endotracheal tube into your child’s trachea to help them
breath. This procedure is known as intubation. Once the tube is positioned,
your child’s doctor will connect it a ventilator. This can help improve your
child’s lung function while they recover from their infection.
What are potential complication of bacterial tracheitis?
Your child’s outlook will depend on the severity of their condition and how
quickly they get treatment. The airways of small children can swell quickly,
making it difficult for them to breathe. If your child’s trachea becomes
completely blocked, it can lead to respiratory arrest and death.
If your child’s infection is caused by S. aureus bacteria, they can
also potentially develop toxic shock syndrome. This condition can cause fever,
shock, organ failure, and even death.
What is the outlook for bacterial tracheitis?
Getting prompt treatment is essential to your child’s ability to make a full
Children typically do well once they are past the acute
phase of the illness. Most children recover without long-last consequences.