Stridor: Overview, Causes, Treatment

Stridor: Overview, Causes, Treatment

The abnormal, high-pitched sound made when breathing with an obstructed upper airway is called stridor.  Stridor is commonly a symptom of another disease or health condition. It might be heard during inhalation, exhalation, or both, and doctors can easily recognize it. If you want to learn more about this distinctive sound, continue reading below.

Stridor Causes

A range of different conditions can cause stridor and depending on the cause symptoms can vary, too.


Also known as laryngotracheobronchitis, stridor in croup is usually characterized by the sound of seal barking. The cough usually worsens at bedtime and it is most common in infants and young children. Some of the most common causes of croup are viruses including influenza, adenoviruses, measles, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

Retropharyngeal Abscess

This condition is a result of a complication of a bacterial throat infection. Like croup, it is also common among children under six years old. And, the typical symptoms of retropharyngeal abscess include high fever and sore throat.

Peritonsillar Abscess

Similar to the previous one, peritonsillar abscess is often a complication of an infection such as strep throat or tonsillitis. However, this condition is most common among young adolescents and teenagers. It is characterized by a really painful sore throat, chills, fever, and difficulty swallowing.


Although very rare, especially in vaccinated children, if it does manifest, this condition might be life-threatening. Apart from stridor and other abnormal breathing sounds, it is characterized by uncontrollable drooling, inability to swallow, and high fevers.


Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that is life-threatening, just like epiglottitis. It can occur as a result of different types of allergies like insect sting, food allergy, etc. Other typical symptoms of anaphylaxis include swelling, hives, runny nose, itching, rash, etc.


This chronic condition is caused by a softening around the tissues of the voice box and is even present at birth, meaning that it is congenital. The first symptoms manifest quite shortly after birth and might include feeding difficulties, acid reflux, and poor weight gain.

Vocal Cord Paralysis

There are several reasons for paralyzed vocal cords such as trauma (injury or surgery) or an infection. Plus, it can also be congenital in case of bilateral vocal cord paralysis meaning that it affects both sides. Symptoms include a weak cry in infants, a weak voice in adults, coughing or choking while eating, and more.

Vocal Cord Lesions

Finally, papillomas caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) infections or a nodule that prevents the vocal cords from closing properly are called vocal cord lesions. Nodules typically occur as a result of voice overuse (screaming, excessive coughing, or straining your voice).

Stridor Treatment

Depending on how severely breathing is affected and the cause of stridor, your doctor will be able to determine the right treatment for you. If stridor is mild and the cause is known and also not that serious, your doctor may suggest home treatment.

So, for example, in mild cases of croup, you might be recommended to use a cool-mist humidifier, sit in a steamy bathroom, breathe fresh cool air, drink cool liquids, suck on popsicles, and more.

However, if breathing is severely affected, supplemental oxygen might be needed, or breathing treatments using medications such as racemic epinephrine. Sometimes, in truly severe cases, a breathing tube and subsequent ventilation might be needed.

Last but not least, surgical intervention might be required if stridor is caused by inhaling a foreign object, laryngomalacia, or laryngeal or tracheal stenosis.