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Related to laryngotracheobronchitis: laryngotracheitis


inflammation of the larynx, trachea, and bronchi; an acute form is the most common cause of croup.
Miller-Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health, Seventh Edition. © 2003 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc. All rights reserved.


An acute respiratory infection involving the larynx, trachea, and bronchi. See: croup.
Farlex Partner Medical Dictionary © Farlex 2012


An acute respiratory infection involving the larynx, trachea, and bronchi.
See: croup
Medical Dictionary for the Health Professions and Nursing © Farlex 2012


Widespread inflammation of the voice box (LARYNX), the wind-pipe (TRACHEA) and the main air passages of the lungs (the BRONCHI). Laryngotracheobronchitis commonly causes croup, especially in children.
Collins Dictionary of Medicine © Robert M. Youngson 2004, 2005

Laryngotracheobronchitis (Croup)

DRG Category:153
Mean LOS:3.1 days
Description:MEDICAL: Otitis Media and Upper Respiratory Infection Without Major CC

Laryngotracheobronchitis (LTB) is an inflammation and obstruction of the larynx, trachea, and major bronchi of children. In small children, the air passages in the lungs are smaller than those of adults, making them more susceptible to obstruction by edema and spasm. Because of the respiratory distress it causes, LTB is one of the most frightening acute diseases of childhood and is responsible for over 250,000 emergency department visits each year.

LTB is sometimes called croup, although croup can be more specifically described as one of three entities: LTB, laryngitis (inflammation of the larynx), or acute spasmodic laryngitis (obstructive narrowing of the larynx because of viral infection, genetic factors, or emotional distress). Acute spasmodic laryngitis is particularly common in children with allergies and those with a family history of croup. Acute LTB usually occurs in the fall or winter in North America and is often mild, self-limiting, and followed by complete recovery.


More than 85% of LTB cases are caused by a virus. Parainfluenza 1, 2, and 3 viruses; respiratory syncytial virus; Mycoplasma pneumoniae; and rhinoviruses are the most common causes. The measles virus or bacterial infections such as pertussis and diphtheria are occasionally the cause. Epiglottitis, a life-threatening emergency caused by acute inflammation of the epiglottis and surrounding area, differs from LTB because it usually results from infection with the bacteria Haemophilus influenzae type B. Another rare occurrence is subglottic hemangioma, which can initially produce symptoms of croup. Recurrent croup may be associated with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Genetic considerations

Although some anatomical structural anomalies have been associated with an increased incidence of croup, no direct genetic link has been made.

Gender, ethnic/racial, and life span considerations

Children susceptible to LTB are generally between the ages of 3 months and 4 years, with peak incidence from 6 months to 3 years. The susceptibility decreases with age, although some children seem more prone to repeat episodes of LTB. Acute spasmodic laryngitis occurs in the same age group and peaks at age 18 months. As with many respiratory diseases, boys younger than 6 months are affected more often than girls, but in older children, the male-to-female ratio is equal. Croup is more common in white, European American children than in black, African American children.

Global health considerations

Epiglottitis usually results from infection with the bacteria H. influenzae type B. This condition is more prevalent in developing nations that do not vaccinate for influenzae type B. Generally, children contract the illness during the cool months in their climate.



The child usually has a history of an upper respiratory infection and a runny nose (rhinorrhea). The child may have dysphonia (impairment in the ability to make vocal sounds). After 12 to 48 hours of respiratory symptoms, such as cough and increased respiratory rate, the child develops a barking, seal-like cough; a hoarse cry; and inspiratory stridor. The symptoms tend to occur in the late evening and improve during the day, which may be due to the lower cortisol levels at night. The initial sign of LTB is increasing respiratory distress. The child may develop flaring of the nares, a prolonged expiratory phase, and use of accessory muscles. When you auscultate the child’s lungs, the breath sounds may be diminished and you may hear inspiratory stridor. The child may have a mild fever. Increasing respiratory obstruction is indicated by any of the following: increasing stridor, suprasternal and intercostal retractions, respiratory rate above 60, tachycardia, cyanosis, pallor, and restlessness. Assessment is done using the Westley scale, which evaluates the severity of symptoms based on five factors: (1) stridor, (2) retractions, (3) air entry, (4) cyanosis, and (5) level of consciousness. In addition, each type of croup can have particular symptoms, as shown in Table 1.

The course of the infection lasts several days to several weeks, although 60% resolve within 48 hours. Some children may have a lingering, barking cough. A child may have LTB more than once but will outgrow it as the size of the airway increases.

Physical examination

Forms of Laryngotracheobronchitis
Table 1. Forms of Laryngotracheobronchitis
LTBFever, breathing problems at night, inability to breathe out because of bronchial edema, decreased breath sounds, expiratory rhonchi, scattered crackles
LaryngitisMild respiratory distress in children, increased respiratory distress in infants; sore throat and cough, inspiratory stridor, dyspnea; late phases: severe dyspnea, fatigue, exhaustion
Acute spasmodic laryngitisHoarseness, rhinorrhea, cough, noisy inspiratory phase that worsens at night, anxiety, labored breathing, cyanosis, rapid pulse; the most severe symptoms may occur on the first night, with lessening symptoms on each of the following nights


The parents and child will be apprehensive. Assess the parents’ ability to cope with the emergency situation, and intervene as appropriate. Note that many children are treated at home rather than in the hospital; your teaching plan may need to consider home rather than hospital management.

Diagnostic highlights

General Comments: Most children require no diagnostic testing and can be diagnosed by the history and physical. If diagnostic testing is needed, it involves identifying the causative organism, determining oxygenation status, and ruling out masses as a cause of obstruction.

TestNormal ResultAbnormality With ConditionExplanation
Blood culture; throat cultureNo growth; no organism identifiedCausative organism identifiedDistinguishes between bacterial and viral infections
Pulse oximetry≥ 95%< 95%Low oxygen saturation is present if there is obstruction in the lung passages
X-raysNormal structureNarrowing of the upper airway and edema in epiglottal and laryngeal areasNarrowing and/or blocked airway is characteristic of LTB

Primary nursing diagnosis


Ineffective airway clearance related to tracheobronchial infection and obstruction


Respiratory status: Airway patency; Respiratory status: Gas exchange; Respiratory status: Ventilation


Airway management; Respiratory monitoring; Vital signs monitoring; Anxiety reduction

Planning and implementation


The aim of treatment is to maintain a patent airway and provide adequate gas exchange. Medical management includes bronchodilating medications, corticosteroids, nebulized adrenaline, cool mist in a croup tent during sleep, and intravenous hydration if oral intake is inadequate. Oxygen may be used, but it masks cyanosis, which signals impending airway obstruction. Sedation is contraindicated because it may depress respirations or mask restlessness, which indicate a worsening condition. Sponge baths may be needed to control temperatures above 102°F. You may need to isolate the child if the physician suspects syncytial virus or parainfluenza infections.

Laryngoscopy may be necessary if complete airway obstruction is imminent. A flexible nasopharyngoscopy can be used; an intubation or a tracheostomy is performed only if no other method of airway maintenance is available. Keep intubation and tracheostomy trays near the bedside at all times for use in case of emergencies.

Pharmacologic highlights

Medication or Drug ClassDosageDescriptionRationale
Racemic epinephrinePer nebulizer, varies depending on size of childSympathomimeticDilates the bronchioles, opening up respiratory passages
CorticosteroidsVaries with drugAnti-inflammatoryDecrease airway inflammation if epinephrine is not effective
AntipyreticsVaries with drugSalicylates, acetaminophen, NSAIDsReduce fever, often present in LTB
AntibioticsVaries with drugType of antibiotic depends on the causative organismFight bacterial infections


Ongoing, continuous observation of the patency of the child’s airway is essential to identify impending obstruction. Prop infants up on pillows or place them in an infant seat; older children should have the head of the bed elevated so that they are in Fowler’s position. Sore throat pain can be decreased by soothing preparations such as iced pops or fruit sherbet. If the child has difficulty swallowing, avoid thick milkshakes.

Children should be allowed to rest as much as possible to conserve their energy; organize your interventions to limit disturbances. Provide age-appropriate activities. Crying increases the child’s difficulty in breathing and should be limited if possible by comfort measures and the presence of the parents; parents should be allowed to hold and comfort the child as much as possible. Children sense anxiety from their parents; if you support the parents in dealing with their anxiety and fear, the children are less fearful. A child’s anxiety and agitation will most likely exacerbate the symptoms and need to be avoided if possible. Carefully explaining all procedures and allowing the parents to participate in the care of the child as much as possible help relieve the anxieties of both child and parents.

Provide adequate hydration to liquefy secretions and to replace fluid loss from increased sensible loss (increased respirations and fever). The child also might have a decreased fluid intake during the illness. Clear liquids should be offered frequently. Apply lubricant or ointment around the child’s mouth and lips to decrease the irritation from secretions and mouth breathing.

Evidence-Based Practice and Health Policy

Tibballs, J., & Watson, T. (2011). Symptoms and signs differentiating croup and epiglottitis. Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, 47(3), 77–82.

  • In a prospective study that included 203 children who were admitted to an intensive care unit with acute upper airway obstruction, misdiagnoses occurred in 54% prior to a definitive diagnosis of either croup (102 children) or epiglottitis (101 children).
  • Both illnesses presented with stridor; however, children with croup were more likely to present with coughing (p < 0.001), breathing difficulty (p = 0.029), and noisy breathing (p = 0.018). Children with epiglottitis were more likely to present with drooling (p < 0.001), fever (p = 0.012), dysphonia (p < 0.001), preference to sit (p < 0.001), refusal of food (p < 0.001), dysphagia (p < 0.001), sore throat (p < 0.001), and vomiting (p < 0.001).
  • Coughing had a sensitivity of 100% (95% CI, 96% to 100%) in identifying croup and 98% (95% CI, 93% to 99%) specificity in ruling out epiglottitis. Drooling had a sensitivity of 79% (95% CI, 70% to 86%) in predicting epiglottitis and a specificity of 94% (95% CI, 88% to 97%) in ruling out croup.

Documentation guidelines

  • Respiratory status: Rate, quality, depth, ease, breath sounds
  • Response to treatment: Cool mist tent, bronchodilators, racemic epinephrine, fluid, and diet
  • Child’s emotional response
  • Child’s response to rest and activity

Discharge and home healthcare guidelines

Children may have recurring episodes of LTB; parental instruction on mechanisms to prevent airway obstruction is therefore important. Despite their continued widespread use, there is little evidence to support the effectiveness of cool mist humidifiers. Some parents may take the child into a closed bathroom with the shower or tub running to create an environment that has high humidity.

If antibiotics have been prescribed, tell the parents to make sure the child finishes the entire prescription.

Instruct the parents to recognize the signs of increasing respiratory obstruction and advise them when to take the child to an emergency department. Remind the parents that ear infections or pneumonia may follow croup in 4 to 6 days. Immediate medical attention is needed if the child has an earache, productive cough, fever, or dyspnea.

home care.
If the child is cared for at home, provide the following home care instructions: (1) Keep the child in bed or playing quietly to conserve energy; (2) prop the child in a sitting position to ease breathing; do not let him or her stay in a flat position; (3) do not use aspirin products because of the chance of Reye’s syndrome; and (4) give plenty of fluids, such as sherbet, ginger ale left to stand so there are no bubbles, gelatin dissolved in water, and iced pops; withhold solid food until the child can breathe easily.

Diseases and Disorders, © 2011 Farlex and Partners


Acute respiratory infection involving larynx, trachea, and bronchi.
Medical Dictionary for the Dental Professions © Farlex 2012
References in periodicals archive ?
In contrast to epiglottitis, laryngotracheobronchitis (LTB) is classified as subglottic airway obstruction.
(%) ([dagger]) 13 (42) 1 (11) Laryngotracheobronchitis, no.
Background Croup (laryngotracheobronchitis) is a common upper respiratory illness in children.
Croup, technically called laryngotracheobronchitis, is caused by various viruses including influenza virus, parainfluenza virus, adenovirus and some others.
Case-patients were children admitted for ARTI (mostly bronchiolitis, pneumonitis, and laryngotracheobronchitis) who had an NPA collected as part of the investigation of their illness.
The child had previously been hospitalized for severe, generalized varicella, laryngotracheobronchitis, multiple episodes of pneumonia, and complications of acute otitis media.
Laryngotracheobronchitis: two years' experience with racemic epinephrine.
LRTI included the diagnoses of bronchiolitis, bronchitis, pneumonia, and laryngotracheobronchitis. The 336 nasopharyngeal samples were consecutively collected at admission, after informed consent was obtained from the children's parents.
Some of these complications are from the spread of the virus and include ear infections, pneumonia, encephalitis (infection of the brain), and laryngotracheobronchitis (croup).
Case-patients were children admitted for an ARTI (mostly bronchiolitis, pneumonitis, and laryngotracheobronchitis) who had a nasopharyngeal aspirate collected as part of the investigation of their illness (in this hospital, collecting such samples is standard practice to assess the presence of HRSV in children).