► Health TopicsEar Nose and ThroatTracheitis



Tracheitis is a bacterial infection of the windpipe (trachea).

Alternative Names

Bacterial tracheitis; Acute bacterial tracheitis


Bacterial tracheitis is most often caused by the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus. It often follows a viral upper respiratory infection. It affects mostly young children. This may be due to their tracheas being smaller and more easily blocked by swelling.


Symptoms include:

  • Deep cough (similar to that caused by croup)
  • Difficulty breathing
  • High fever
  • High-pitched breathing sound (stridor)

Exams and Tests

The health care provider will perform a physical exam and listen to the child's lungs. The muscles between the ribs may pull in as the child tries to breathe. This is called intercostal retractions.

Tests that may be done to diagnose this condition include:

  • Blood oxygen level
  • Nasopharyngeal culture to look for bacteria
  • Tracheal culture to look for bacteria
  • X-ray of the trachea


The child often needs to have a tube placed into the airways to help with breathing. This is called an endotracheal tube.

The child will receive antibiotics through a vein. The health care team will closely monitor the child's breathing and use oxygen, if needed.

Outlook (Prognosis)

With prompt treatment, the child should recover.

Possible Complications

Complications may include:

  • Airway obstruction (can lead to death)
  • Toxic shock syndrome if the condition was caused by the bacteria Staphylococcus

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Tracheitis is an emergency medical condition. Go to the emergency room right away if your child has had a recent upper respiratory infection and suddenly has a high fever, a cough that gets worse, or trouble breathing.


Cukor J, Manno M. Pediatric respiratory emergencies: Upper airway obstruction and infections. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2013:chap 168.

Duncan NO. Infections of the airway in children. In: Flint PW, Haughey BH, Lund LJ, et al, eds. Cummings Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2010:chap 197.

Nicklaus Children's Hospital

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