Learning About Tracheobronchomalacia

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What is tracheobronchomalacia?

Tracheobronchomalacia (say "tray-kee-oh-brong-koh-muh-LAY-shee-uh") is a rare condition that affects the windpipe and airways. The walls of the windpipe (trachea) and airways (bronchial tubes) become weak and soft. The weak walls can narrow or block the airways and make it hard for you to breathe. Without treatment, the problem can get worse over time.

This condition is most often caused by a health problem like COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) or an injury.

What are the symptoms?

You may:

  • Have a cough that will not go away.
  • Feel short of breath.
  • Cough up mucus or blood.
  • Make a whistling noise when you breathe in or out.

What can you expect when you have it?

This condition can get worse over time. You may find that:

  • You get short of breath when you do simple things like get dressed or fix a meal.
  • It's hard to eat or exercise.
  • You may not be able to clear mucus from your throat.
  • You may get infections that keep coming back.

How can you keep it from getting worse?

The best way to keep the condition from getting worse is to treat the medical problem that caused it, like COPD.

There are other things you can do. For example, avoid tobacco smoke and other bad air. If you already smoke, it is never too late to stop. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good. Air pollution, chemical fumes, and dust also can make it hard to breathe.

If you have tracheobronchomalacia, you may have a higher risk of getting infections such as COVID-19, the flu, or pneumonia. Vaccines for COVID-19, the flu, and pneumonia may keep you from getting ill. If you do get these illnesses, having had a vaccine may help keep you from getting as sick as you would have if you didn't get the vaccine.

How is it treated?

The treatment depends on what caused the condition. For example, people who have COPD are treated with medicines and oxygen.

If your condition is severe or caused by an injury, your doctor may talk to you about your options. Treatments include:

  • Using CPAP, a small machine that helps keep your airway open. CPAP stands for "continuous positive airway pressure."
  • Inserting stents. These are small tubes that expand and help open your airway.
  • Having surgery. The type of surgery will depend on how severe your condition is.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.