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Bacterial Tracheitis Clinical Presentation

  • Author: Sujatha Rajan, MD; Chief Editor: Russell W Steele, MD  more...
Updated: Oct 20, 2015


Symptoms of bacterial tracheitis may be intermediately between those of epiglottitis and croup. Presentation is either acute or subacute.

  • In the classic presentation patients present acutely with fevers, toxic appearance, stridor, tachypnea, respiratory distress, and high WBC counts. Cough is frequent and not painful.
  • In a study by Salamone et al, a significant subset of older children (mean age, 8 y) did not have severe clinical symptoms.[10]
  • The prodrome is usually an upper respiratory infection, followed by progression to higher fever, cough, inspiratory stridor, and a variable degree of respiratory distress.
  • Patients may acutely decompensate with worsening respiratory distress due to airway obstruction from a purulent membrane that has loosened.
  • Patients have been reported to present with symptoms and signs of bacterial tracheitis and multiorgan failure due to exotoxin-producing strains of Staphylococcus aureus or Streptococcus pyogenes in the trachea.
  • A high index of suspicion for bacterial tracheitis is needed in children with viral croup–like symptoms who do not respond to standard croup treatment or clinically worsen.


The following physical findings may be noted:

  • Inspiratory stridor (with or without expiratory stridor)
  • Barklike or brassy cough
  • Hoarseness
  • Worsening or abruptly occurring stridor
  • Varying degrees of respiratory distress
    • Retractions
    • Dyspnea
    • Nasal flaring
    • Cyanosis
  • Sore throat, odynophagia
  • Dysphonia
  • No drooling
  • No specific position of comfort (The patient may lie supine.)


The following causes have been noted:

  • S aureus: Community-associated methicillin-resistant S aureus (CA-MRSA) has recently emerged as an important agent in the United States; this could result in a greater frequency of MRSA strains that cause tracheitis.
  • S pyogenes, Streptococcus pneumoniae, and other alpha hemolytic streptococcal species
  • Moraxella catarrhalis: Recent reports suggest it is a leading cause of bacterial tracheitis and associated with increased intubation.
  • Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib): This cause is less common since the introduction of the Hib vaccine.
  • Klebsiella species
  • Pseudomonas species
  • Anaerobes
  • Peptostreptococcus species
  • Bacteroides species
  • Prevotella species
  • Other
    • Mycoplasma pneumoniae
    • Mycobacterium tuberculosis (endobronchial disease)
    • H1N1 influenza[11]
Contributor Information and Disclosures

Sujatha Rajan, MD Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Albert Einstein School of Medicine; Consulting Staff, Department of Pediatrics, Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, Schneider Children's Hospital, North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System

Sujatha Rajan, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics, Infectious Diseases Society of America, Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Sunil K Sood, MBBS, , MD Professor of Clinical Pediatrics, Department of Pediatrics, Albert Einstein College of Medicine; Chief, Pediatric Infectious Diseases, Firm Director, Pediatric Unit, Schneider Children's Hospital at North Shore, North Shore University Hospital

Sunil K Sood, MBBS, , MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics, American Society for Microbiology, Infectious Diseases Society of America, Society for Pediatric Research

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Kathryn Clark Emery, MD Associate Professor, Department of Pediatrics, University of Colorado Health Sciences Center; Consulting Staff, Department of Emergency Medicine, Children's Hospital of Denver

Kathryn Clark Emery, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Mary L Windle, PharmD Adjunct Associate Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Joseph Domachowske, MD Professor of Pediatrics, Microbiology and Immunology, Department of Pediatrics, Division of Infectious Diseases, State University of New York Upstate Medical University

Joseph Domachowske, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Society for Microbiology, Infectious Diseases Society of America, Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society, Phi Beta Kappa

Disclosure: Received research grant from: Pfizer;GlaxoSmithKline;AstraZeneca;Merck;American Academy of Pediatrics<br/>Received income in an amount equal to or greater than $250 from: Sanofi Pasteur;Astra Zeneca;Novartis<br/>Consulting fees for: Sanofi Pasteur; Novartis; Merck; Astra Zeneca.

Chief Editor

Russell W Steele, MD Clinical Professor, Tulane University School of Medicine; Staff Physician, Ochsner Clinic Foundation

Russell W Steele, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics, American Association of Immunologists, American Pediatric Society, American Society for Microbiology, Infectious Diseases Society of America, Louisiana State Medical Society, Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society, Society for Pediatric Research, Southern Medical Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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