Airway obstruction causes

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1] Associate Editor(s)-in-Chief: Hilda Mahmoudi M.D., M.P.H.[2]


Airway obstruction can be caused by obvious physical obstruction, such as choking or due to a swollen epiglottis in epiglottitis. It can also be caused by less obvious causes of airway compromise such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, pneumonia and pulmonary edema. A high index of suspicion needs to be maintained when a person presents with signs of infection and upper airway obstruction, as epiglottitis and peritonsillar abcess can cause rapid cardiorespiratory compromise.


Common Causes

Causes by Organ System

Cardiovascular Anaphylactic shock , Aortic arch anomalies, Aortic dissection, Hemangioma, Pulmonary edema, Superior vena cava syndrome
Chemical / poisoning Chemical burns,
Dermatologic Hemangioma, Kaposi's sarcoma
Drug Side Effect ACE inhibitors, Anaphylactic shock , Angioedema, Levodopa, Penicillin, Sedation, Sodium thiopental, Trovafloxacin mesylate
Ear Nose Throat Adenoid hypertrophy, Croup, Dysphagia, Empty nose syndrome, Epiglottitis, Large turbinate, Laryngomalacia, Pallister-Hall syndrome, Peritonsillar abscess, Pharyngeal flap surgery, Pierre Robin syndrome, Retropharyngeal abscess, Rhinoplasty, Subglottic stenosis, Swollen turbinates, Throat cancer, Thyroid cancer, Thyroid Carcinoma, Tonsillectomy, Tracheitis, Tracheomalacia, Tracheotomy, Upper airway obstruction, Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty, Vocal cord problems
Endocrine Thyroid cancer, Thyroid carcinoma
Environmental Foreign body, Hanging
Gastroenterologic Cystic fibrosis, Pallister-Hall syndrome
Genetic Cystic fibrosis, Pallister-Hall syndrome, Pierre Robin syndrome
Hematologic Hemangioma
Iatrogenic Rhinoplasty, Tonsillectomy, Tracheotomy, Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty
Infectious Disease Bacterial infections, Epiglottitis, Infectious mononucleosis, Kaposi's sarcoma, Peritonsillar abscess, Retropharyngeal abscess, Tracheitis, Viral infections
Musculoskeletal / Ortho Increased neck circumference, Pallister-Hall syndrome, Pierre Robin syndrome
Neurologic Conscious Sedation, Pallister-Hall syndrome, Sedation
Nutritional / Metabolic Obesity, Obesity hypoventilation syndrome
Obstetric/Gynecologic No underlying causes
Oncologic No underlying causes
Opthalmologic No underlying causes
Overdose / Toxicity Sedation
Psychiatric No underlying causes
Pulmonary Aspiration, Asthma, Atelectasis, Bronchiectasis, Bronchiolitis obliterans, Chronic airway obstruction, Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Community-acquired pneumonia, Cystic fibrosis, Exercise induced pulmonary hemorrhage, Hospital-acquired pneumonia, Lipid pneumonia, Obesity hypoventilation syndrome, Pneumonia, Pulmonary edema
Renal / Electrolyte Rapidly progressive glomerulonephritis,
Rheum / Immune / Allergy Allergic reactions, Anaphylactic shock , Angioedema, Interleukin 13, Leukotriene,
Sexual No underlying causes
Trauma Aortic dissection, Trauma
Urologic No underlying causes, Pallister-Hall syndrome
Dental No underlying causes
Miscellaneous Smoke burn

Causes in Alphabetical Order

  • Hanging
  • Increased neck circumference
  • Large turbinate
  • Swollen turbinate
  • Throat cancer
  • Vocal cord problems


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