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Tracheomalacia is a condition in which the walls of the windpipe, called the trachea, are blocked or collapse because of weak or soft tissue. This can cause breathing problems.

Tracheomalacia is most common in infants. Most of the time it is a congenital defect, which means a baby is born with the condition. But tracheomalacia may also develop in babies, especially those who are born early, who have had breathing tubes kept in place for a long time.

Tracheomalacia usually improves by the time the child is 6 to 12 months of age and disappears between 18 and 24 months of age.

Symptoms of tracheomalacia include coarse, noisy breathing (stridor), prolonged exhaling, and a croupy cough. These symptoms become worse during exertion, such as from crying, or when the child has a cold or other upper respiratory infection. Symptoms can make feeding difficult. Symptoms usually improve when the baby lies on his or her stomach.

A medical history and physical examination can indicate the possibility of tracheomalacia, but diagnosis must be confirmed by an X-ray or other tests of the trachea.

Usually tracheomalacia improves over time with no medical treatment. But if the condition is severe, causes growth problems, or fails to improve, surgery may be necessary.

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Jennifer Merchant, MD - Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine
Last Revised April 27, 2011

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: April 27, 2011
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