Airway Stenting: What is it and What it’s For

Some diseases or disease complications can cause the airway (wind pipe) to narrow down or get blocked. This can lead to suffocation or shortness of breath. Imagine if someone compresses your neck tightly. You will feel choked. This is because your wind pipe gets narrowed or blocked during such compression cutting off the oxygen supply to your lungs and the body. 

The act of compressing someone’s neck by hands to block their wind pipe is also called strangulation. A blocked wind pipe from either cancer in the wind pipe, or tuberculosis of the wind pipe produces the same effect as strangulation. 

A stent is a hollow tube, either made of silicone or part silicone and part metal that’s placed in the airway (wind pipe) to open up the narrowed area and help relieve the blockage making the patient’s breathing easy again.

The stent is placed either in the trachea (single wind pipe in the neck before its branching) or the bronchi (two left & right branches of single wind pipe in the neck), depending on where the narrow area is. 

The trachea is the tube that carries air from the mouth and nose to the center of the chest. The bronchi are tubes that branch off the trachea and carry air from the center of the chest to the different areas of the lungs.

Stents can be made of various materials like silicone or metal. They also come in different shapes and sizes. Airway stents can also be permanent or temporary. The cause of the blockage, a computed tomography (CT) scan, and expected life span of the patient help the doctor decide which type is most beneficial.

The stent is placed during a procedure known as rigid bronchoscopy. During the procedure, the doctor will place a flexible camera called a bronchoscope through the mouth into the bronchi or trachea. It will allow them to see inside the airways while they are placing the stent. Typically, most people go home the same day the stent is placed.

After the procedure, you will wake up in the recovery room. Your heart, breathing, and blood pressure will be monitored. Once fully awake, you will be given a drink and your IV taken out. It is possible that you will cough up a little blood after the procedure. This is not a cause of concern and is typically normal. You can also feel soreness in your throat for a day or so.

If you had a lung biopsy at the same time as your procedure, a chest X-ray may be performed. This is to ensure your lung is not punctured. This type of injury however is rare. 

It is also possible that your doctor will prescribe a nebulizer to keep the stent moist so that mucus does not get stuck in it. You will be starting your nebulizer treatments on the evening of your procedure.

It is possible to have a sore throat for 1 to 2 days. You can manage the discomfort or pain by:

  • Avoiding smoking and eating spicy foods
  • Eating soft foods for the time being
  • Sucking on ice chips or throat lozenges
  • Taking over-the-counter pain medications

If you experience severe pain, get in touch with your doctor right away. You may be prescribed other pain medications. Your doctor will also likely schedule a follow-up bronchoscopy so your stent and airway can be examined to ensure that the stent is functioning well.

The stent is held in place by pressure around the stent from the blocked wind pipe itself. After undergoing the  treatment of the underlying cancer or Tuberculosis that was causing the blockage of the wind pipe, the blockage resolves which can loosen the stent leading to the stent`s movement.  

This may result in sudden shortness of breath or coughing. In very rare cases, some people may cough up the stent. If this happens, get in touch with your doctor right away.

Some mucus may accumulate in the inside of the stent and block the air flow. Depending on the stent type, it is possible that tissue can grow into the stent and make it narrow. Using a nebulizer can ensure this won’t happen.

Get in touch with your doctor if you experience the following:

  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Coughing up blood for more than 2 days
  • Coughing up more than a teaspoon of blood
  • Color of the sputum or mucus changes
  • Sudden shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fever of 101 °F (38.3 °C) or higher
  • Bad breath that does not go away even with normal oral hygiene

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