To develop a simple noninvasive method for detecting tracheal stenosis, tracheal sounds were analyzed using fast-Fourier transform. The subjects were all female and included 5 normal volunteers and 13 patients with tracheal stenosis mostly secondary to thyroid cancer (11 extrathoracic and 2 intrathoracic lesions). Tracheal sounds were recorded during spontaneous breathing and were digitized with an analog-to-digital converter. Pulmonary functions, including forced expiratory volume in 1 s (FEV1) expressed as percentage of vital capacity, peak expiratory flow rate (PEFR), the ratio of FEV1 to PEFR (Empey's index), and the ratio of expiratory to inspiratory flow rates at 50% vital capacity, were measured. A computed tomography scan was used to obtain the tracheal minimum cross-sectional area. Whereas PEFR demonstrated a weak correlation with the stenotic area, FEV1%, Empey's index, and the ratio of expiratory to inspiratory flow rates at 50% vital capacity did not. The power of the fast-Fourier transform spectrum of normal tracheal sounds decreased as the frequency increased up to 500 Hz. A small spectral peak was observed at ~1 kHz. Patients with significant tracheal stenosis demonstrated an increase in the peak spectral power at ~1 kHz and in the mean spectral power from 600 to 1,300 Hz in their tracheal sounds. In patients with extrathoracic lesions, the peak and mean spectral powers correlated well with the area of the stenosis as defined by computed tomography scan. In patients with intrathoracic lesions, abnormalities in the pulmonary functions as well as tracheal sound spectra appeared more evident despite milder stenoses. We conclude that analysis of tracheal sounds is a simple noninvasive test for tracheal stenosis.
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