Making the diagnosis of malignant airway obstruction may be simple or challenging depending on how the patient presents.


The patient may present:

(1) with symptoms misdiagnosed as another condition (see below)

(2) with airway complaints


Malignant airway obstruction may be misdiagnosed as:

(1) an exacerbation of COPD, including chronic bronchitis

(2) worsening heart failure (especially if there is nocturnal dyspnea or worsening of symptoms when supine)

(3) asthma


Airway complaints may include:

(1) dyspnea

(2) cough

(3) wheezing

(4) stridor

(5) hemoptysis


Symptoms may be relatively mild until a level of critical obstruction occurs, after which there may be a rapid deterioration.


Often a history of a malignant tumor that can cause airway obstruction is key in making the diagnosis.


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