Idiopathic Subglottic Stenosis
i-dee-o-PA-thic SUB-glah-tick sten-OH-sis
by Michael Jubinville, MPH
Subglottic stenosis is a narrowing of the windpipe in the area just below the vocal cords. It can make it difficult for air to get through the windpipe and into the lungs.
The narrowing may also affect your voice.
The term idiopathic means the exact cause is unknown or the condition occurs spontaneously.
ISGS almost always affects women. It usually affects those aged 30-50 years, but can occur in those who are younger. The connection between ISGS and these risk factors is not clear.
Symptoms of ISGS may include:
Breathing problems may worsen over time. At first, breathing may only be difficult during physical activity. As ISGS progresses, you may also have a hard time breathing during rest. If you have acute difficulty breathing, call for emergency medical services right away.
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Pulmonary function tests will also be done to test your ability to move air in and out of your lungs. Your doctor may suspect subglottic stenosis based on the pulmonary tests and medical history.
Imaging tests of the airway may show narrowing. These may include:
A scope may be passed down the throat to look for tissue problems. A sample of tissue can also be removed to look for signs of inflammation or disease.
ISGS is graded from 1-4, with 1 being mild and 4 being the most severe. Other tests may be done to determine a specific cause.
ISGS is rare. There is no standard treatment that works for everyone. A combination of treatments may work best.
Treatment for mild stenosis may include:
Treatment for severe stenosis may include:
Some treatments may produce temporary results and need to be repeated.
There are no current guidelines to prevent ISGS because the cause is unknown.
American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery
American College of Chest Physicians
Canadian Society of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery
Canadian Thoracic Society
About subglottic stenosis. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Accessed March 16, 2018.
Idiopathic subglottis stenosis. NORD—National Organization for Rare Diseases website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Updated 2015. Accessed March 16, 2018.
Subglottic stenosis. Baylor College of Medicine website. Available at: https://www.bcm.edu/healthcare/care-centers/institute-voice-swallowing/conditions/subglottic-stenosis. Accessed March 16, 2018.
Subglottic stenosis. Rush University Medical Center website. Available at: https://www.rush.edu/services/conditions/subglottic-stenosis. Accessed March 16, 2018.
Last reviewed March 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board James P. Cornell, MD
Last Updated: 2/8/2017
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