Acute bacterial tracheitis

Acute bacterial tracheitis


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 frequently follows a recent viral upper respiratory infection. It affects mostly young children, possibly because their small trachea is easily blocked by swelling.


The child usually has a high fever and looks very ill.

The cough is deep and is similar to that caused by croup

Breathing becomes more difficult with time. The child makes a high-pitched sound sound when breathing in. This is called stridor.

Exams and Tests

The health care provider will perform a physical exam and listen to the lungs. The muscles between the ribs 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
  • X-ray of the trachea
  • Nasopharyngeal culture to look for bacteria
  • Tracheal culture to look for bacteria


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 and oxygen. The health care team will closely monitor the child's breathing.

Outlook (Prognosis)

With prompt treatment, the patient is expected to 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 if your child has had a recent upper respiratory infection and suddenly has a high fever, a cough that gets worse, and trouble breathing.

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