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.
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.
Common causes of stridor include:
Follow your health care provider's advice to treat the cause of the problem.
Stridor may be a sign of an emergency. Call your provider right away if there is unexplained stridor, especially in a child.
In an emergency, the provider will check the person's temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure, and may need to do abdominal thrusts to clear the airway.
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:
Tests that may be done include:
Griffiths AG. Chronic or recurrent respiratory symptoms. In: Kliegman RM, St. Geme JW, Blum NJ, Shah SS, Tasker RC, Wilson KM, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 401.
Rose E. Pediatric upper airway obstruction and infections. In: Walls RM, ed. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2023:chap 162.BACK TO TOP
Review Date: 6/7/2022
Reviewed By: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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