Microscopic examination of iatrogenic subglottic tracheal stenosis: Observations that may elucidate its histopathologic origin

Hans J. Welkoborsky, Michael L. Hinni, Hartmut Moebius, Lothar Bauer, Helmut Ostertag

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Objectives: The histopathologic origin of iatrogenic subglottic tracheal stenosis (ISTS) remains unclear. The purpose of this study was to use detailed operative microscopy to systematically examine the operative en bloc specimens of patients with ISTS and to observe the histologic and morphological changes in the hopes that these observations will provide insight into the histopathologic origin of these devastating injuries. Methods: The operative specimens of 18 patients who underwent open tracheal or laryngotracheal resection for ISTS were examined. Precise morphological characteristics were investigated for each tissue layer, including the adventitia, the outer surface of the perichondrium, the cartilage, the inner surface of the perichondrium, the submucosa, and the mucosa. Each tissue layer was evaluated independently and in relationship to the other layers. The cartilaginous airway was further evaluated relative to the pars membranacea. Results: The most common morphological finding in the epithelium was squamous metaplasia with occasional intense inflammation visible in the underlying mucosa, including cicatrization. The underlying cartilage demonstrated ossific metaplasia with sequestration in many cases. By far the most pronounced changes were found in the outer perichondrium and overlying adventitia and included diffuse paucicellular or hyperplastic fibrosis with intense hyperplastic scar formation or hyaline cicatrization. In the pars membranacea, severe scar formation and hyperplastic fibrosis were predominant. Ossific metaplasia was particularly severe in the lateral or outer parts of the tracheal ring, particularly in the vicinity of the adventitia and outer perichondrium. These changes were much more pronounced than the relatively minor changes observed in the submucosa and mucosa. Conclusions: The most severe pathologic observations occurred in the lateral tissue layers, ie, the outer perichondrium and adventia. Given that an injury occurs from the tracheal lumen, these tissue layers have the greatest distance from the site of injury. As only minor changes occurred in the inner tissue layers, we hypothesize that these tissues have a greater regenerative capacity than the outer layers. This study supports the theory that the depth of the airway injury is more critical to the development of ISTS than is the extent or length of the injury.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)25-31
Number of pages7
JournalAnnals of Otology, Rhinology and Laryngology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2014


  • Etiology
  • Histology
  • Pathogenesis
  • Subglottic tracheal stenosis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Otorhinolaryngology


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