Airway disorders are potentially life-threatening conditions which result from abnormalities or defects in a child's airway, anywhere from the nose to the trachea. Generally, these conditions are corrected with surgeries to either reconstruct the airway or remove an obstruction. Airway disorders can disrupt healthy breathing patterns, cause speech abnormalities, and increase a child's risk of respiratory infections. Airway disorders are commonly discovered soon after birth and treated immediately, especially if affecting breathing or other functions of the face and mouth.
Most airway disorders are treated with surgical procedures designed to bypass, restructure, or reconstruct a portion of the airway. When babies are first born, they rely exclusively on their nose to breathe. Some babies are born without an opening between the nose and throat, a problem called choanal atresia, or an abnormally small opening called choanal stenosis. Surgical procedures can create an opening, improving breathing. Other children may have noisy breathing or a “wheeze-like” sound caused by floppiness of the upper airway called laryngomalacia. Most infants with laryngomalacia will outgrow the condition. One percent of children with laryngomalacia have difficulty with breathing, feeding problems, or blue spells. These children may require surgery to prevent the airway from collapsing. In conditions including glottic and subglottic stenosis, the airways are narrowed at the vocal cords or just below them, making it difficult to breathe. Surgery is often recommended to dilate the airway to improve airflow. Other children have an abnormal connection between the airway and the esophagus at the vocal cords called a laryngotracheal cleft. If the opening is fairly limited, a child can adjust their swallowing gradually to prevent foods or liquids from entering the lungs. In those who continue to aspirate or who have a particularly long connection between the airway and the esophagus, surgery may be required. Repair of a laryngeal cleft uses biodegradable sutures to close the abnormal opening between the trachea and the esophagus. Finally, some children are born with cysts or masses within the trachea or a mass outside of the airway pushing against it . These may be small or non- visible at birth but can grow with time, resulting in airway distress. A pediatric ENT surgeon can diagnose, treat, and repair these abnormalities.
Children's airways are narrower than an adult’s. Therefore, conditions which affect the airway will impact a child’s more than an adult. Children also breathe at a much faster rate and certain noises, such as stridor, are more evident as a result. The doctor can help a child overcome certain health conditions which affect their quality of life. When genetic abnormalities occur, having a pediatric ENT surgeon who understands how to treat these conditions can save a child's life.
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