Central airway obstruction

American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine
Armin ErnstAtul C Mehta

Abstract

Central airway obstruction is a problem facing all medical and surgical subspecialists caring for patients with chest diseases. The incidence of this disorder appears to be rising because of the epidemic of lung cancer; however, benign causes of central airway obstruction are being seen more frequently as well. The morbidity is significant and if left untreated, death from suffocation is a frequent outcome. Management of these patients is difficult, but therapeutic and diagnostic tools are now available that are beneficial to most patients and almost all airway obstruction can be relieved expeditiously. This review examines current approaches in the workup and treatment of patients suffering from airway impairment. Although large, randomized, comparative studies are not available, data show significant improvement in patient outcomes and quality of life with treatment of central airway obstruction. Clearly, more studies assessing the relative utility of specific airway interventions and their impact on morbidity and mortality are needed. Currently, the most comprehensive approach can be offered at centers with expertise in the management of complex airway disorders and availability of all endoscopic and surgical options.

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