Stridor Breath Sounds: Definition, Causes & Treatment

Instructor: Lynee Carter
From this lesson, you will learn about an abnormal sound that a person can produce when breathing. The reasons such sounds occur in children are different as compared to adults. Treatment depends on the cause and severity of the problems.

Stridor Breath Sounds Defined

Let's say you just witnessed a young child pick up a coin and accidentally swallow it. Although it appears he is not choking, you hear a strange noise every time he breathes in and out. What you hear is called stridor breath sounds.

Stridor breath sounds are very high-pitch and are heard when someone is breathing. The sound can occur when someone breathes in and breathes out. They are produced from air roughly flowing through a partially obstructed area of the respiratory system that includes the pharynx, epiglottis, larynx, and upper part of the trachea.


Causes and Treatment in Children

Stridor breath sounds can happen when children have swallowed a foreign object and it gets stuck in the upper airways. Other symptoms that occur include drooling, coughing and vomiting. Since an obstructed airway can affect breathing, the first step in treatment is to supply additional oxygen as needed. Then the location and type of object is identified with imaging tests like an x-ray. Surgical procedures may have to be done if the object cannot be manually removed.

swallowed coin

Croup is a respiratory problem caused by a virus that commonly occurs in children. One of its symptoms is stridor breath sounds. The virus causes inflammation that leads to swelling in the trachea. Other symptoms that occur include a barky cough, difficulty swallowing and fever. In mild situations, inhaling moist air helps the symptoms. However, the best treatment is to take medications such as steroids or epinephrine that reduces the swelling.


Causes and Treatment in Adults

One reason stridor breath sounds occur in adults is due to problems of the vocal cords. In vocal cord dysfunction, the parts stop working properly, which partially blocks the upper airway. Since the common cause of this condition is stress, treatment includes education, counseling, and breathing techniques to calm the person down. Oxygen therapy is also supplied when respiratory distress is present.

vocal cord dysfunction

The other reason stridor breath sounds occur in adults are from problems with the larynx, or voice box. It can swell from trauma when a tube is removed that has been placed in the airway to help a person breathe. In this case, medications that reduce swelling are taken. Tumors and nodules can also grow on the larynx and obstruct the airway. They have to be surgically removed or treated with special medications that shrink their size.

larynx nodules

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