Tracheomalacia is a rare condition characterized by soft cartilage in the windpipe, or trachea. This abnormal cartilage is weak and floppy, which can cause the tracheal wall to collapse. A collapsed tracheal wall will block the airway and cause difficulty breathing.

There are two types of tracheomalacia:

  • Congenital — this is present from birth and may be associated with abnormalities in the trachea.
  • Acquired — this develops after birth and can be caused by trauma to the trachea such as prolonged pressure on the trachea, chronic tracheal infections, prolonged intubation or polychondritis (inflammation of the cartilage in the trachea).


The most common symptom associated with a chest wall infection is chest pain. This is often due to the inflammation caused by the infection and may become more severe with activity. Other common symptoms include:

  • Tenderness
  • Swelling
  • Difficulty taking a deep breath
  • Pain in the shoulders or back
  • Headaches
  • Joint pain
  • Dry cough
  • Fever

Causes and Risk Factors

Chest wall infections can occur in both men and women, and in patients of any age. The condition is caused by a bacteria or virus, and in rare cases, a fungus, that has invaded the affected area.

Patients with a compromised immune system are at an increased risk of developing a chest wall infection. Common conditions that may increase a patient’s risk include:


Diagnosis of a tracheomalacia usually begins with a physical exam and a review of the patient’s medical history and symptoms. Diagnostic tests such as a chest x-ray, blood tests, or other procedures are generally used to diagnose and infection and any related conditions.

Imaging diagnostic tests such as a chest x-rays can help determine if there findings consistent with tracheomalacia. These images can also help diagnose other related conditions the patient may have such as pneumonia.

Other tests such as a thoracentesis or bronchoscopy may be used to look at the tissue within the chest wall or at the airway to examine inflammation or other signs of infection.


Treatment for tracheomalacia will generally focus on addressing the infection that is causing the symptoms. Medications to help fight the infection and reduce inflammation are often prescribed and physical therapy may also be included in the treatment plan.

Antibiotics may be prescribed to the patient to help their body fight off a bacterial infection that is causing the symptoms. Many anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen are available over the counter without a prescription and can provide relief for many patients who are experiencing pain due to inflammation.

For patients in severe pain, prescription narcotics such as Vicodin may be provided to help reduce the pain. Other prescription medications that can help control pain include antidepressants and anti-seizure drugs.

In-office or at home physical therapy exercises may also be prescribed as treatment. Stretching exercises that focus on the chest muscles can help with pain and tightness related to inflammation.

The knowledgeable and highly trained staff at the Women's Guild Lung Institute work as a multidisciplinary team to determine the best treatment option for each patient.