Health Library
Complete Tracheal Rings

What Are Complete Tracheal Rings?

The trachea (windpipe) is made up of cartilages (also called tracheal rings). Normally tracheal rings are “C” shaped. Complete tracheal rings are “O” shaped. The “O” shaped rings are always smaller than normal “C” shape.

What causes complete tracheal rings?

Complete tracheal rings are a rare condition present at birth (also called congenital). It is most often linked to other vascular (blood vessel), heart, or lung abnormalities.

What are the symptoms of complete tracheal rings?

Children with complete tracheal rings have noisy breathing which gets worse over time. Typically, it sounds like they have secretions they cannot cough up or “washing machine breathing”. Some children can have increased work of breathing or sucking in around their ribs and chest (also called retractions). Some children also may have problems with feeding. This breathing is worse with colds or respiratory illnesses.

How are complete tracheal rings diagnosed?

Complete tracheal rings are diagnosed with a microlaryngoscopy and bronchoscopy. Sometimes the child may need other x-rays or tests to check for other vascular (blood vessel), heart, or lung abnormalities.

What is the management/treatment of complete tracheal rings?

Some children, who have few symptoms, do not need surgery. These children are monitored regularly for airway growth or any changes in their symptoms. Most children will develop symptoms as the body grows, but the airway does not. They will need to have surgery to make their airway bigger. This surgery is called a slide tracheoplasty.

Last Updated 10/2021

Reviewed By Cheryl Brumbaugh, MSN, APRN, CNP

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A Mother's Letter

Mom shares the lessons she learned from her daughter Emma, who was born with Down syndrome, tracheal rings and laryngeal cleft.