What is Stridor?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 17 June 2019
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Stridor is a sound that can be produced in some people when they breathe. It may be whistling, slightly musical, or the pitch of it can simply be very high or squeaky. The noise can indicate a very serious medical condition, though not in all cases. If it occurs suddenly, it is considered medically urgent and needs attention right away.

There are many different causes of stridor, but principally, the sound can be explained by some sort of blockage, which can vary in type, in the upper part of the respiratory system. It might be best illustrated by closing the hands slightly on a straw while having to inhale from it. In the right circumstances, this might produce a sound or whistle. What evidence of this condition suggests, then, is impediment of the airway, and this may occur for a number of very serious reasons.

Reasons for stridor occurring suddenly can include inhalation of a foreign body. It also can occur when infants and young children suffer from croup. Sometimes narrowing of the airway occurs due to medical interventions like intubation, and stridor may be the result. People who have surgery that causes the complication of full or partial vocal cord paralysis may suffer from this, and this may be one instance when known cases aren’t treated. Other times some part of the airway is not functioning due to malformation or tumors might obstruct airway to a degree.


When cause is unknown, the condition is usually treated right away with things like breathing treatments. If there is suspicion or evidence of foreign body in the airway this could be looked for first. Usually people are given oxygen too. Intubation via mouth or occasional tracheostomy is considered if the condition is worsening, if oxygen levels drop or breathing becomes increasingly difficult. Not all people will require either of these steps, and, for instance, babies with croup seldom need this.

Some people have a problem with this condition that may not be addressed. If vocal cords are not completely functional in very young children, they may live with a certain amount of stridor. As long as this does not diminish oxygen intake, it could be tolerated, though the breathing is likely to be noted by others, including peers. Such breathing could also restrict exercise to a degree because it increases with activity and tends to cause fatigue sooner. In adults with vocal cord paralysis, there are more surgical interventions that are performed with greater frequency, which may diminish or eliminate the breathing condition.

Due to the many potential causes of stridor, the condition should always be viewed as one possibly hazardous to life and breathing. People should proceed to the emergency room or contact doctors right away if this condition suddenly develops. Without medical examination, it may be difficult to tell why it has appeared, and those affected by it might require significant respiratory support.


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