Airway obstruction

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Airway obstruction
SpecialtyPulmonology Edit this on Wikidata

Airway obstruction is a blockage of respiration in the airway. It can be broadly classified into being either in the upper airway or lower airway.

Upper airway obstruction[edit]

Causes of upper airway obstruction include foreign body aspiration, blunt laryngotracheal trauma, penetrating laryngotracheal trauma, tonsillar hypertrophy, paralysis of the vocal cord or vocal fold, acute laryngotracheitis such as viral croup, bacterial tracheitis, epiglottitis, peritonsillar abscess, pertussis, retropharyngeal abscess, spasmodic croup.[1] In basic and advanced life support airway obstructions are often referred to as A-problems. Management of airways relies on both minimal-invasive and invasive techniques.

Lower airway obstruction[edit]

Lower airway obstruction is mainly caused by increased resistance in the bronchioles (usually from a decreased radius of the bronchioles) that reduces the amount of air inhaled in each breath and the oxygen that reaches the pulmonary arteries. It is different from airway restriction (which prevents air from diffusing into the pulmonary arteries because of some kind of blockage in the lungs). Diseases that cause lower airway obstruction are termed obstructive lung diseases.

Lower airway obstruction can be measured using spirometry. A decreased FEV1/FVC ratio (versus the normal of about 80%) is indicative of an airway obstruction, as the normal amount of air can no longer be exhaled in the first second of expiration. An airway restriction would not produce a reduced FEV1/FVC ratio, but would reduce the vital capacity. The ventilation is therefore affected leading to a ventilation perfusion mismatch and hypoxia.


Airway obstruction may cause obstructive pneumonitis or post-obstructive pneumonitis.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Respiratory Emergencies, section Acute Upper Airway Obstruction. From FP Essentials 368. January 2010 by American Academy of Family Physicians.

External links[edit]