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  • Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Publication Type:




Tracheomalacia is abnormally weak or soft cartilage (tissue) in the trachea (windpipe). It may cause the cartilage to collapse. This can make it hard for air to move smoothly to the lungs.

This problem is most often present at birth or soon after.

Air Pathway.

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It is not known why this problem happens in babies.

Tracheomalacia that happens later in life may be caused by injury or trauma to the throat, such as:

  • Breathing with a ventilator for a long time
  • Tracheotomy
  • An illness like tracheobronchitis
  • Squeezing of the trachea due to tumors and cysts, or heart, blood vessel, or skeletal issues
  • Repeat infections

Risk Factors

This condition is more common in babies who are born very early. It is also more common in babies who are born with esophageal atresia. This happens when a baby is born without part of the esophagus. This is the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach.

Tracheomalacia that happens later in life is more likely with:

  • Breathing with a ventilator for a long time
  • Recent tracheotomy
  • An illness like tracheobronchitis


Symptoms will depend on how severe the tracheomalacia is. A person may have:

  • Problems breathing
  • High-pitched or rattling breathing
  • Cough


The doctor will ask about symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done.

Images may need to be taken to check the trachea. This can be done with:


This problem usually goes away on its own as a baby grows. It often is gone by the time a child is 2 years of age.

People with severe symptoms may need treatment to ease or to fix the problem. Choices are:

  • Supportive care, such as warm air therapy
  • Devices, such as a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine to keep the airway open

Rarely, people with severe symptoms may need surgery. Choices are:

  • Moving nearby soft tissue to ease pressure on the trachea
  • Removing the part of the trachea that is causing the problem
  • Placing a device in the trachea to help hold it open


There are no current guidelines to prevent tracheomalacia.





  • Santer, D., D’Alessandro, M. Tracheo/laryngomalacia. Virtual Pediatric Hospital website. Available at: http://www.virtualpediatrichospital.org/providers/ElectricAirway/Text/TracheoLaryngo.shtml.
  • Tracheobronchomalacia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/tracheobronchomalacia.
  • Tracheomalacia. Boston Children’s Hospital website. Available at: http://www.childrenshospital.org/conditions/tracheomalacia.
  • Tracheomalacia. Johns Hopkins Medicine website. Available at: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/tracheomalacia.


  • James P. Cornell, MD
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.