Your body does not produce mucus, but mucus does form naturally around certain tissues in the body. The trachea is one of these tissues. It is made up of the cartilage framework that connects the larynx (voice box) to the trachea (windpipe).
The respiratory tract is made up of a network of tubes. The trachea is a tube that allows air to pass from the larynx (voice box) into the trachea (windpipe).
The trachea is covered with a thin membrane called the epiglottis (eyelid flap). When you swallow, the epiglottis opens so that food can enter the stomach.
Normally, mucus in the trachea is thin and watery, but when the trachea is inflamed or injured, it becomes thick and sticky. This mucus can block the trachea and prevent air from moving through the trachea into the lungs.
What are the symptoms of a blocked trachea?
The symptoms of a blocked trachea may include:
- Feeling that food is stuck in your mouth or throat, or that you cannot swallow
- A blocked cough
- A runny nose or nasal congestion
- A sore throat
- A hoarse voice
- Hoarseness or a speech impediment
How is a blocked trachea diagnosed?
If you have a blocked trachea, a doctor will want to know if you have any of the symptoms of a blocked trachea. They may also want to know if you have any other medical conditions, such as cancer, or if you are at high risk for developing one.
Your doctor may also want to know if you smoke or if you have used alcohol or other drugs. If you have a blocked trachea, your doctor may also want to check for swelling in your windpipe (tracheal rings).
Your doctor may also want to look at the shape of your trachea. If it is not straight, it may mean that your trachea is too high in one place.
How is a blocked trachea treated?
Your doctor will be able to tell you how to treat a blocked trachea.
If you have a blocked trachea and a blocked cough, your doctor may recommend that you take acetaminophen and a cough suppressant medication, such as dextromethorphan.
If symptoms persist, your doctor may recommend surgery, which involves removing the blockage.
What is the outlook for a blocked trachea?
The outlook for a blocked trachea depends on its cause. For example, if you have a blockage due to a foreign object or a foreign object that has become stuck in your throat, you may not need to have any treatment.
However, if you have a blockage that is caused by an infection, such as tracheitis, bronchitis, or a lung abscess, you may require treatment. You may need to be hospitalized for intravenous antibiotics and fluids.
It may take several weeks for you to recover from a blocked trachea.
How can you prevent a blocked trachea?
You can help prevent a blocked trachea by practicing good hygiene. It is important that you wash your hands before and after using the bathroom, and then after coughing or sneezing.
Smoking and drinking alcohol may temporarily increase your risk of developing a blockage. You should avoid these things if you have a blocked trachea.
You may also want to avoid certain foods. They may be more likely to cause a blockage. Foods that are known to cause blockages include:
- Raw eggs
- Peanut butter
- Soybean sprouts
- Tomato products (tomato sauce, tomato paste, or ketchup)
- Raw vegetables
- Fruit (apples, pears, peaches, pineapples, and citrus fruits)
- Spicy foods
- Caffeinated drinks (coffee, tea, and caffeine-containing soft drinks)
You should also avoid drinking too much alcohol, which can irritate the trachea.
When should you call your doctor?
If you have a blocked trachea that you cannot control, you should call your doctor.
They will want to confirm that you are having trouble breathing and that you have a blockage in your trachea. They will ask about your symptoms and how long they have been happening.
They will also ask if you have any other medical conditions, including cancer, that could be causing your symptoms.
They may order tests to confirm that you have a blocked trachea. This may include a chest X-ray, a CT scan, or an MRI scan.
They may also recommend that you have a bronchoscopy to get a look at your windpipe.
If you have any other symptoms, such as a cough, a runny nose, or nasal congestion, you should also call your doctor.
What’s the outlook if you don’t get treatment?
If you don’t get treatment for a blocked trachea, it can cause a serious infection. An untreated blockage can be life-threatening.
Your doctor may suggest that you see an ear, nose, and throat doctor, a pulmonologist, or an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat doctor). They will want to know if you have any other medical conditions, including cancer, that could be causing your symptoms.
They may also recommend that you get a tracheostomy. This is a procedure that involves placing a small tube through your mouth and into your trachea.
The tube collects mucus and secretions, and it also allows you to cough or breathe through the tube.
You may also want to see an endoscopy. This is a procedure that involves a specialist using an instrument with a camera on the end to examine your trachea and windpipe.
What is a tracheostomy?
A tracheostomy is a procedure that involves placing a small tube through your mouth and into your trachea. It allows you to cough or breathe through the tube.
Your doctor will usually recommend this if your symptoms are getting worse or your breathing is becoming more difficult.
The procedure is usually done in a hospital or a clinic.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
- Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.
- Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
- Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells you.
- At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you.
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