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Airway Reconstruction for Adults

Narrowing of the upper airway – what physicians call stenosis – can lead to serious breathing obstruction, in some cases severe enough to require a tracheotomy, a surgical opening in the windpipe below the obstruction to enable breathing.

The Laryngology Division is experienced in airway reconstruction for adults, to correct stenosis surgically, restoring natural breathing without the need for tracheotomy. In some cases, airway reconstruction can also restore airway function in tracheotomy patients, doing away with the need for the tracheotomy.

Stenosis generally occurs as the result of lesions or scarring in the windpipe. The lesions come from a variety of sources, including tumors, damage from intubation, auto accidents and other trauma and congenital issues – problems from birth.

Not every stenosis is treatable by surgery – and some forms of stenosis do not cause a breathing problem and require no treatment at all. Generally, surgery is the best course of action when the lesion is relatively small, isolated outside the vocal cords and not the result of any underlying systemic disease.

Under the right circumstances, the surgeons at Mass. Eye and Ear use a variety of tools and techniques to correct the problem, including:

  • Airway dilation
  • Endoscopic surgery
  • Traditional surgery

Airway dilation is the least invasive of the treatment options. The same-day procedure stretches the upper airway to increase airflow. The results are immediate but the procedure must be repeated over time for the best outcome.

Compared to traditional surgery, endoscopic surgery results in less damage to healthy tissue, smaller incisions, few breathing and swallowing problems and faster recovery times. Read more.

When the problem cannot be corrected with endoscopic surgery, traditional surgical techniques are also performed at Mass. Eye and Ear in collaboration with Mass. General.

Mass. Eye and Ear is also committed to research in stenosis therapies, including advanced tissue engineering that may some day enable growing new tracheal tissue in the laboratory.