Tracheal web

Last revised by Rohit Sharma on 12 Nov 2023

A tracheal web is a membrane that narrows the tracheal lumen, sometimes perforated.

The incidence of congenital tracheal web is 1:10,000 births. In adults, tracheal webs can form following infection, inflammation or intubation.

Clinical features depend on the degree of narrowing and include wheeze, stridor, recurrent infections and respiratory failure and can mimic asthma or COPD. Minor webs may be asymptomatic but are a cause of difficult intubation. High webs cause inspiratory difficulty and lower webs cause expiratory symptoms 8.

There are two types of tracheal webs:

  • congenital

    • typically diagnosed in the pediatric population 8 and do not involve the tracheal cartilage

  • acquired

    • more often seen in adults 8 following surgery or prolonged or traumatic intubation (post-intubation tracheal stenosis, PITS)

    • high-pressure cuffs and low capillary pressure due to hypotension cause mucosal ischemia and sometimes chondritis that heals with fibrosis 6

Webs are usually occult on x-ray. CT shows the anatomy of the thin web, the degree of stenosis and the morphology of surrounding structures 8.

Direct visualization via bronchoscopy is gold standard investigation 8 and may break a thin web 11. Alternative treatments include balloon dilatation, Nd-YAG laser, argon plasma coagulation, resection or stent 5.

After web excision, mitomycin C may be applied topically to prevent scar formation. Edema can be reduced by administration of intravenous dexamethasone 9.


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