Acute upper airway obstruction

Indian J Pediatr. 2011 Oct;78(10):1256-61. doi: 10.1007/s12098-011-0414-0. Epub 2011 May 11.


Upper airway obstruction is defined as blockage of any portion of the airway above the thoracic inlet. Stridor, suprasternal retractions, and change of voice are the sentinel signs of upper airway obstruction. Most of the common causes among children presenting to emergency department are of acute infectious etiology. Among these, croup is the commonest while diphteria remains the most serious life-threatening cause. Recent reports indicate that bacterial tracheitis has become increasingly common. In ER evaluation the key clinical data in determining the cause and the site of obstruction are the onset, presence of fever, character of the stridor, retractions, the voice and the ability to handle secretions. After assessment of the severity of respiratory distress and resuscitative or supportive therapy including oxygen and emergent airway, specific treatment is directed at underlying etiology. All patients with audible stridor require early endotracheal intubation/tracheostomy. In croup the mainstay of treatment are cold humidified oxygen, budesonide nebulization ( in mild cases), Dexamethasone 0.6 mg/kg iv or im (in moderate and severe cases), and Adrenaline 5 ml 1:1000 (5 mg) solution as nebulization ( in severe cases). In diphtheria, early tracheostomy, anti-diphtheric serum and injectable penicillin are critical. Bacterial Tracheitis and Retropharyngeal abscess need early administration of injectable Cloxacillin, Amikacin and Clindamycin. ENT consultation should be obtained for early surgical drainage of retropharyngeal abscess. Angioneurotic edema is treated with subcutaneous adrenaline (1:1000, 0.01 ml/kg); hydrocortisone 10 mg/kg IV and antihistamines. Patients with severe obstruction and those with endotracheal tube/ trachesotomy should be transferred to PICU.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Airway Obstruction / diagnosis
  • Airway Obstruction / etiology*
  • Airway Obstruction / therapy*
  • Child
  • Humans
  • Medical History Taking
  • Physical Examination
  • Respiratory Sounds / etiology