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The upper airway includes the throat, voice box (larynx), and windpipe (trachea). It serves as a conduit to the lungs to allow for air exchange. 

Larynx and windpipe have a cartilaginous support structure around them to prevent collapse and obstruction while breathing. A narrowing (airway stenosis) is caused by tumors, airway injury (e.g., trauma to the neck, intubation, tracheostomy), or autoimmune disease. In some instances, the cause of stenosis is unknown (idiopathic stenosis) 

The type of stenosis is named after its location:

  • Glottic stenosis (vocal cord narrowing) 
  • Subglottic stenosis (narrowing just below the vocal cord) 
  • Tracheal stenosis (narrowing of the windpipe)

A subglottic or tracheal stenosis can sometimes be mistaken for other respiratory disorders, such as asthma, bronchitis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Common symptoms include:

  • Noisy breathing
  • Shortness of breath during exertion
  • Voice changes
  • Cough
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