Airway Obstruction Treatment

When breathing doesn’t come easily, everything else feels hard. If you have trouble breathing due to an airway obstruction, our expert team can help.

At Henry Ford Health, our voice and larynx specialists work closely with lung specialists (pulmonologists) to diagnose and treat all types of upper and lower airway obstructions.

How we diagnose airway obstruction

Finding the cause of an airway obstruction is the first step toward treating it. In addition to a physical examination, we may recommend:

  • Imaging tests, such as X-ray or CT scan to look for what’s causing the blockage
  • Bronchoscopy to closely examine breathing passages from your nose or mouth down into your lungs. A bronchoscope is a long, thin tube with a light and camera on it. We use this device to see inside airways and take tissue samples.

How we treat airway obstruction

There are over 1,500 miles of airways in the body and many causes for airway obstruction. No single treatment is right for everyone and every condition.

Our voice and larynx care team partners with specialists from our nationally recognized interventional pulmonology (IP) program. This collaboration allows us to provide comprehensive care and individualized treatment for every patient.

Depending on your overall condition, and the cause and location of the airway obstruction, treatment may include:


Doctors prescribe medications when necessary to treat airway inflammation or infection. In many cases, corticosteroids can help reduce inflammation that results from asthma, COPD, bronchitis or pneumonia.


Whenever possible, we use minimally invasive surgical techniques to open blocked airways. Surgical procedures include:

  • Tracheotomy: Doctors use this procedure to bypass an obstruction. We make a hole in the trachea and insert a small tube to help you breathe.
  • Endoscopic airway opening: During this minimally invasive procedure, doctors use a laser to remove scar tissue and open the airway.
  • Open airway reconstruction: When necessary, we perform surgery to remove a damaged section of the airway or to enlarge a blocked area. 

Airway obstruction treatments

At Henry Ford, we approach each patient and airway problem in a very individualized manner, tailoring the treatment to that patient.

Treatment of airway obstruction can include medication or surgery. The type of obstruction, its location and severity, as well as the patient’s overall health status and personal needs, will determine which approach is appropriate for that particular patient.

The three different types of surgery to release the airway obstruction are:

  1. Tracheotomy bypassing the obstruction
  2. Endoscopic opening of the airway
  3. Open reconstruction of the airway with either removal of the obstructed segment (tracheal resection) or enlarging of the obstructed segment with cartilage grafts (laryngotracheoplasty)

Take the next step

If you need a specialist’s care to treat voice or larynx disorders, we are here to help. Request an appointment today with one of our voice and larynx experts.


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