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Tracheitis is a bacterial infection of the windpipe (trachea).

Causes of Tracheitis

Bacterial tracheitis is most often caused by the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus. It often follows a viral upper respiratory infection. It affects mostly young children. This may be due to their tracheas being smaller and more easily blocked by swelling.

Tracheitis Symptoms

Symptoms include:

  • Deep cough (similar to that caused by croup)
  • Difficulty breathing
  • High fever
  • High-pitched breathing sound (stridor)

Tests and Exams

The health care provider will perform a physical exam and listen to the child's lungs. The muscles between the ribs may pull in as the child tries to breathe. This is called intercostal retractions.

Tests that may be done to diagnose this condition include:

Treatment of Tracheitis

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. The health care team will closely monitor the child's breathing and use oxygen, if needed.

Prognosis (Outlook)

With prompt treatment, the child should recover.

Potential Complications

Complications may include:

When to Contact a Health Professional

Tracheitis is an emergency medical condition. Go to the emergency room right away if your child has had a recent upper respiratory infection and suddenly has a high fever, a cough that gets worse, or trouble breathing.


Cukor J, Manno M. Pediatric respiratory emergencies: Upper airway obstruction and infections. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2013:chap 168.

Duncan NO. Infections of the airway in children. In: Flint PW, Haughey BH, Lund LJ, et al, eds. Cummings Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2010:chap 197.

Review Date: 11/25/2014
Reviewed By: Ashutosh Kacker, MD, BS, Professor of Clinical Otolaryngology, Weill Cornell Medical College, and Attending Otolaryngologist, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, New York, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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