What Are the Causes of Tracheal Edema?


Tracheal edema refers to the swelling of the airway between the throat and the lungs. This is often called the “windpipe.” This kind of swelling can be fatal since, if extreme, can completely block the windpipe itself (the trachea), killing the victim through asphyxiation. There are generally only a few causes for this condition, most of which are based on the introduction of foreign substances (chemical or otherwise) into the body or the windpipe itself.


  • The main cause of throat/windpipe swelling is the inhalation of poisonous substances. DiagnosisPro, a medical diagnostic website, holds that the most common substances that cause this kind of swelling are acids and smoke, mustard and nerve gas, and forms of chlorine and ammonia in the air. Most typical poisons, such as sarin or cyanide gas, when inhaled, cause this condition.

Endotracheal Intubation and Bronchoscopy

  • Medical procedures can cause tracheal edema as a side effect. Though less and less common as a side effect, it can occur during and after procedures that affect the trachea such as endotracheal intubation, which is the insertion of a tube down a patient's throat; a patient that cannot otherwise breathe properly on their own. In addition, a Bronchoscopy procedure can also cause the swelling as an unwanted side effect. In this case, a Bronchosocpy is similar to an endotracheal intubation, but instead of a breathing tube, this tube is inserted with an attached camera that searches for tumors and other causes of blood in the mucous or other unexplained coughing. For both these procedures, the trachea can become swollen if not performed properly or with due care.


  • Another common cause of tracheal edema is an allergic reaction. This is called, in technical language, anaphylaxis, or a severe allergy that causes the swelling of the throat and airway, often affecting many parts of the body. Things such as seizures, swollen abdomens and severe headaches also come in tandem with this kind of reaction. This can be caused by inhaled poisons such as gasoline fumes, but can also be caused by an allergy severe enough that the throat closes up. Most commonly, this kind of severe allergic reaction is caused by the inhalation of foreign substances.

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