Health Information




Bacterial tracheitis; Acute bacterial tracheitis

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

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  • Causes

    Bacterial tracheitis is most often caused by the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus. It often follows a recent viral upper respiratory infection. It affects mostly young children, possibly because their small trachea is easily blocked by swelling.

  • Symptoms

    • 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
  • Treatment

    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

    • Airway obstruction -- can lead to death
    • Toxic shock syndrome -- if 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.

Related Information

  Breathing difficul...Common coldCroupToxic shock syndro...     Colds and the flu...


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

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. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2009:chap 166.


Review Date: 11/9/2012  

Reviewed By: Seth Schwartz, MD, MPH, Otolaryngologist, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.

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