Human Anatomy – Trachea

Also known as the windpipe, the trachea is the airway connecting the lungs with the nose and mouth. It is made up of around 20 C-shaped rings of cartilage, linked to each other by ligaments. The inner portions of these rings are made of muscle and connective tissue.

With every breath, the trachea expands slightly, reaching its full diameter of less than an inch. It has a length of around 4 inches, running from the larynx towards the bronchi in the lungs.

Mucous membrane lines the inside of the trachea. Should an object get trapped in the trachea, the cilia in the mucus cells works to push that thing out.

Tracheas are indispensable to all vertebrates’ respiratory systems. Hence, a damaged trachea can be lethal.

human-anatomy-trachea

Trachea conditions

Some people experience a narrowing of the trachea. Tracheal stenosis, as this condition is called, results from scarring or inflammation in the trachea. At least an endoscopic procedure called bronchoscopy, if not surgery, is required to treat tracheal stenosis.

Some people also suffer from tracheoesophageal fistula, wherein the trachea and esophagus become abnormally connected to each other. As a result, food from the esophagus strays into the trachea, leading to serious respiratory conditions. Surgery becomes necessary.

In rare cases, the trachea could develop cancer. Tracheal cancer causes trouble breathing because the cancerous growths obstruct airflow in the trachea. Surgery is needed to treat trachea cancer.

Some people are born with a limp trachea, a condition known as tracheomalacia. Other people get tracheomalacia later in life, usually from smoking and injuries.

Without a doubt, smoking is contrary to a healthy lifestyle.

Treating trachea conditions

Tracheal intubation is needed to facilitate airflow towards the lungs through a damaged trachea. This is done by fitting a tube through the mouth or nose, down to the windpipe.

But if the trachea is so damaged as to necessitate another route for airflow, then tracheotomy is in order.  A tracheotomy, a.k.a. tracheostomy, is done by making an incision around the neck and boring a hole in the trachea. Through this hole a tube is introduced to serve as airway, providing ventilation or breathing support. Tracheotomies are usually conducted under general anesthesia.

When a sufficiently large foreign body becomes lodged in the trachea, the doctor may call for tracheal dilation. This is performed by inflating a balloon in the trachea, widening it, and placing a metal or silicone stent to keep it open. Tracheal dilation is usually done during bronchoscopy.

However, some obstructions in the trachea are cancerous in nature. In such cases, their surgical removal is necessary. Alternatively, high-energy laser can be used to obliterate cancerous growths. They can also be destroyed using cryotherapy, which is often done with a bronchoscopy.

Tests for trachea conditions

Bronchoscopy entails the insertion of a tube, equipped with a lighted camera on the tip, into the mouth or nose, down to the trachea. It may be flexible (bendable bronchoscope is used) or rigid (metal bronchoscope). Either way, bronchoscopy offers an unparalleled inspection of the trachea.

If not, the doctor may just need a CT scan (computed tomography) of the trachea. CT scanning involves taking computer-generated images of the trachea by utilizing a series of X-rays. Similarly, he or she may request an MRI scan (magnetic resonance imaging), which uses radio waves to build photos of the trachea. Then again, a simple chest X-ray will do in diagnosing trachea conditions.

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