Airway Conditions

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Airway conditions affect millions of people and include a wide range of disorders. Skilled diagnosis and appropriate treatment are key to successfully managing these conditions.

UT Southwestern Medical Center’s multidisciplinary team uses the most advanced techniques and technologies to evaluate, diagnose, and treat people suffering from the full range of airway conditions.

What are airway conditions and disorders?

The airway, also known as the respiratory tract, is made up of many specialized organs and structures that enable us to breathe. The upper airway includes the nasal cavities, pharynx, larynx, trachea, epiglottis, and glottis. The lower airway includes the bronchi, bronchioles, and alveolar structures.

There are many types of airway conditions, cancerous and noncancerous, and they can be caused by disease, structural abnormalities, injury, and factors such as infection, allergies, and medical treatments. Issues can be acute or chronic and can arise in both the upper and lower portions of the airway.

Comprehensive Care for Every Airway Condition

UT Southwestern’s multidisciplinary airway program includes physicians and surgeons who specialize in ear, nose, and throat (otolaryngology); lung (pulmonology); thoracic surgery; and cancer (oncology). Many of these experts see patients at UT Southwestern’s Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center, the only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center in North Texas.

Causes and Types of Airway Conditions

Airway conditions include: 

Pediatric Airway Disorders

Conditions affecting a child’s airway can cause breathing and feeding difficulties, and impact their ability to safely grow. UT Southwestern Pediatric Group includes ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialists who focus on treating pediatric airway disorders. These physicians have advanced surgical training and expertise in selecting the right management strategy for patients and their families.

The Children’s Health Airway Management Program (CHAMP) provides personalized care for all pediatric airway concerns. At our Multidisciplinary Pediatric Airway Clinic (MPAC), ENT physicians work closely with gastroenterologists, pulmonologists, speech therapists, nurses, social workers, and respiratory therapists to provide patient-centered care for children with a range of airway conditions.

Airway Diagnoses for Children

Specific diagnoses include:

  • Glottic/subglottic stenosis (acquired or congenital)
  • Tracheal stenosis, including complete tracheal rings
  • Supraglottic stenosis
  • Vocal cord paralysis (unilateral or bilateral)
  • Vocal cord nodules
  • Respiratory papillomas
  • Laryngeal cleft
  • Laryngomalacia
  • Tracheomalacia
  • Airway obstruction
  • Stridor
  • Dysphagia or aspiration
  • Chronic cough
  • Tracheostomy dependence
Airway Surgical Treatments for Children

Surgery for treatment of airway disorders include both endoscopic and open airway procedures.

Endoscopic airway procedures that our team offers include:

  • Scar division with steroid injection
  • Balloon dilation
  • Supraglottoplasty
  • Cordotomy/arytenoidectomy
  • Vocal fold injection
  • Laryngeal cleft repair
  • Vocal cord lateralization
  • Anterior/posterior cricoid split
  • Laser procedures

Open airway procedures may be necessary for more severe conditions. These procedures include:

  • Laryngotracheal reconstruction (LTR) with cartilage grafting
  • Cricotracheal resection (CTR)
  • Cervical slide tracheoplasty (CST)
  • Tracheal resection
  • Thoracic slide tracheoplasty
  • Recurrent laryngeal nerve re-innervation procedures

Diagnosis of Airway Conditions

If our team suspects that someone is suffering from an airway condition, we first conduct a thorough physical examination and inquire about the patient’s and family’s medical history. Diagnostic testing for airway conditions can include:

Treatment of Airway Conditions

The treatment for airway conditions depends on the nature of the problem. UT Southwestern offers treatments that include:

  • Medications, from bronchodilator and anti-inflammatory drugs to antibiotics
  • Surgery
  • Cancer treatments such as surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and other targeted therapies