Ear, Nose and Throat (Otolaryngology) – Head and Neck Surgery

Idiopathic Subglottic Stenosis

Idiopathic means "of unknown cause," and subglottic refers to the part of the airway located immediately below the vocal cords. Stenosis refers to narrowing, usually due to scar tissue. Idiopathic subglottic stenosis, therefore, refers to a narrowing of the part of the airway located immediately below the vocal cords for unknown reasons. Idiopathic subglottic stenosis has become one of the most common reasons for tracheal resections and reconstruction. The condition is rare but afflicts women more often than men.


The most common symptoms of idiopathic subglottic stenosis are:

  • Stridor, a high-pitched musical sound that can be heard as the breath is drawn in and is caused by a blockage in the throat or voice box (larynx).
  • Recurring croup, a respiratory condition usually triggered by an acute viral infection of the upper airway. The infection leads to swelling inside the throat, which interferes with normal breathing and produces the classical symptoms of a "barking" cough.
  • Hoarseness
  • Inability to breathe without a tracheostomy tube.


The most common treatment for idiopathic subglottic stenosis is tracheal resection and reconstruction, in which the surgeon removes the constricted section of the windpipe and rejoins the ends. This is usually a very successful treatment, with excellent long-term results.