Tracheobronchomalacia in children: review of diagnosis and definition

Pediatr Radiol. 2012 Aug;42(8):906-15; quiz 1027-8. doi: 10.1007/s00247-012-2367-5. Epub 2012 Mar 18.


Tracheobronchomalacia is characterised by excessive airway collapsibility due to weakness of airway walls and supporting cartilage. The standard definition requires reduction in cross-sectional area of at least 50% on expiration. However, there is a paucity of information regarding the normal range of central airway collapse among children of varying ages, ethnicities and genders, with and without coexisting pulmonary disease. Consequently, the threshold for pathological collapse is considered somewhat arbitrary. Available methods for assessing the airway dynamically--bronchoscopy, radiography, cine fluoroscopy, bronchography, CT and MR--have issues with reliability, the need for intubation, radiation dose and contrast administration. In addition, there are varying means of eliciting the diagnosis. Forced expiratory manoeuvres have been employed but can exaggerate normal physiological changes. Furthermore, radiographic evidence of tracheal compression does not necessarily translate into physiological or functional significance. Given that the criteria used to make the diagnosis of tracheobronchomalacia are poorly validated, further studies with larger patient samples are required to define the threshold for pathological airway collapse.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bronchoscopy*
  • Child
  • Diagnostic Imaging*
  • Humans
  • Respiratory Function Tests
  • Tracheobronchomalacia / diagnosis*
  • Tracheobronchomalacia / pathology