Stridor Breathing – Things To Look Out For

For many parents like us, we tend to be more than a little worried about the smallest things. Even a slight fever can prompt a doctor’s visit within hours. But when your baby’s breathing seems off, your concern may be warranted. Let’s find out about stridor, its causes, and what you can do about it.


What Exactly Is Stridor Breathing?

Also called extrathoracic airway obstruction and musical breathing, this is breathing that is unusually noisy. It’s a high-pitched, wheezing noise. It may also vibrate like a low whistle that’s loud enough to hear without the aid of a stethoscope. It is usually a sign of a narrowing of the child’s airway. Check here for audio examples.


There are three types of stridor sounds:

  • Inspiratory – This is when you only hear the noise as your child inhales. Inspiratory means there’s a problem with the area or tissue above the vocal cords.
  • Expiratory – Opposite to the previous type, you only hear sounds when your baby exhales. Expiratory indicates that something’s blocking the windpipe.
  • Biphasic – This is a combination of the previous two. With biphasic stridor, you can hear the noise when your child both inhales and exhales. Biphasic means that the cartilage near the vocal cord has narrowed.

What Causes It?

There are several causes of this kind of breathing. Here are the most common causes.


  • Laryngomalacia – This is a congenital condition that’s the most common culprit of stridor breathing in infants and young children. Here, the tissues of the larynx or voice box soften, and the soft tissues start blocking the child’s airway. (check Healthline page for more details).
  • Foreign object – Babies can be curious. Because of this, a small object may become lodged in your child’s throat, airway, or nose. In this case, the stridor sound is often temporary. It typically goes away once you remove the object. To avoid this, don’t let your child put things in their mouth.
  • Inflammation – Musical breathing can also occur from inflammation of the airway, throat, or lymph nodes. It may be due to an infection, an allergic reaction, croup, bronchitis, epiglottitis, and even tonsillitis. Croup is the leading cause of acute stridor.
  • Trauma – Trauma to the airway or vocal cords can also lead to noisy breathing. It can be from a throat surgery or an accident leading to a fracture in the neck.
  • Harmful substances – Inhaling smoke and swallowing chemicals that can damage the throat and airway are some other causes.

Is The Condition Considered Dangerous?

How dangerous these breath sounds are will depend on their cause. Generally, you should see a health professional if you hear your child experiencing this. If you can observe the mentioned symptoms in your infants, they should be checked by medical experts. This turbulent noise indicates that there’s a blockage in the child’s upper airway.


Some cases are considered medical emergencies and need immediate care. For instance, if there’s something lodged in your child’s throat and causing them to choke, immediate care and attention must be given to the child. Allergies leading to anaphylaxis also require urgent care. Other instances of inflammation may also be life-threatening as they impair breathing.

Important signs to look out for include bluish lips or skin, difficult or strained breathing, lethargy, and weight loss.

Laryngomalacia is a different case, however. It’s common and rarely life-threatening. It often becomes noticeable in infants around 4 to 7 months of age. For most kids, they outgrow this by the age of 2, and rarely will it require medical attention.

How Is The Condition Treated?

For stridorous breathing, your child may need medical treatment. Your physician or pediatrician may perform one of the following:

  • They may refer you to a throat or nose specialist.
  • Provide an injection or oral medicine for allergies or inflammation in general.
  • Hospitalize and monitor your child. In severe cases, performing surgery may be necessary for the child’s treatment (rare cases).

In summary, there’s a need to call your doctor if you hear this kind of breathing. Even if it runs in the family, likely, you won’t know its cause. Ask your doctor about it and other medical concerns. Different breathing noises from your kids mean different things. It is worth noting that not all noisy breathing can be equally scary. Some can even be resolved on their own. However, every so often, these noises point to a serious condition. Better safe than sorry.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is Stridor Breathing Usually A Sign Of? Should You Be Worried?

Stridor is a sign that there is a blockage in a child’s trachea or larynx. It usually comes out as a high-pitched wheezing noise.

What Is The Difference Between A Wheeze And Stridor Breathing?

A wheeze is a continuous sound that comes from the lungs when the upper airway walls are narrow. Stridor, meanwhile, is comparable to a loud musical noise that comes from the larynx or trachea — similar to a child’s labored breathing when dealing with a viral infection.

Is It Considered An Emergency?

Yes, children’s hospital ear, nose, and throat doctors say that it can be considered as an emergency that requires supportive care. It occurs due to laryngeal or tracheal obstruction in children’s airways that may eventually lead to vocal cord problems or chest collapsing if the underlying cause is not detected early.

How Do You Treat Stridor Breathing?

This condition can be treated by taking injections or medications to reduce airway swelling. In severe cases, doctors may suggest surgery.

When Should I Be Concerned About My Child’s Breathing?

Parents should be concerned about a child’s breathing when the high-pitched noise is louder than ever. Take the child to the doctor immediately (specifically a throat specialist) if that occurs or your child has been ill recently.

Does It Go Away On Its Own?

Yes, it can go away on its own before kids even become adults. However, it does not always happen, especially if it is a result of a congenital condition.

What Are The Markers Of A Stridor Cough?

It usually comes after croup coughing, which makes a kid sound like a barking seal. When they inhale, the high-pitched noise from their trachea or larynx can be heard, as if they have a hard time breathing.

How Do You Treat This Kind Of Breathing At Home?

Turning on a humidifier at home may reduce the swelling in the larynx or trachea. Allow your child to play outside when it is cold, too, since the cold air may be helpful.

Can It Be Caused By Allergies?

Yes, allergies can cause stridor, primarily when it is severe. The inflammation can make their throat swell, thus allowing air to pass through as a wheezing sound.

Is Stridor Life Threatening?

Yes, the condition can be life-threatening when a doctor cannot diagnose it at once. The reason is that your child’s windpipe or voice box may continue swelling to the extent that they can hardly breathe.

What Is The Most Common Cause Of Stridor In Children?

How Do You Identify Stridor Breathing?

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Last Updated on May 13, 2023 by Jeanne Meets

DISCLAIMER (IMPORTANT): This information (including all text, images, audio, or other formats on is not intended to be a substitute for informed professional advice, diagnosis, endorsement or treatment. You should not take any action or avoid taking action without consulting a qualified professional.   Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions about medical conditions. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking advice or treatment because of something you have read here a

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