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Original Investigation |

Evaluation and Management of Chronic Aspiration in Children With Normal Upper Airway Anatomy

Eelam Adil, MD, MBA1,2; Hasan Al Shemari, MD1; Amy Kacprowicz, BS1; Jennifer Perez, MS, CCC-SLP1; Kara Larson, MS, CCC-SLP1; Kayla Hernandez, MS, CCC-SLP1; Kosuke Kawai, ScD1,4; Julia Cowenhoven, BS1; David Urion, MD3; Reza Rahbar, DMD, MD1,2
[+] Author Affiliations
1Department of Otolaryngology and Communication Enhancement, Boston Children’s Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts
2Department of Otology and Laryngology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
3Department of Neurology, Boston Children’s Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts
4Clinical Research Center, Boston Children’s Hospital. Boston, Massachusetts
JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2015;141(11):1006-1011. doi:10.1001/jamaoto.2015.2266.
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Published online

Importance  Chronic airway aspiration is a challenging problem for physicians and caregivers and can cause significant pulmonary morbidity in pediatric patients. Our knowledge regarding the causes and optimal management of these patients is in its infancy.

Objective  To review our experience with the evaluation and management of pediatric patients with documented aspiration and normal upper airway anatomy.

Design, Setting, and Participants  In this retrospective medical record review, we studied pediatric patients for airway disorders at a pediatric tertiary referral center who were diagnosed as having aspiration on modified barium swallow study during a 10-year period (June 1, 2002, through September 31, 2012).

Interventions  Direct laryngoscopy and bronchoscopy performed with the patient under general anesthesia.

Main Outcomes and Measures  Demographics, comorbidities, management, and swallowing outcomes were analyzed.

Results  Forty-six patients met the inclusion criteria. The mean age at presentation was 1.56 years, and there was a male to female ratio of approximately 2:1. Eight patients (17%) were syndromic, 16 (35%) had developmental delay, and 12 (26%) had congenital heart disease. Fifteen patients (33%) underwent brain magnetic resonance imaging, and none had a brainstem or posterior fossa lesion that accounted for their aspiration. Patients were subdivided according to the consistency of the fluids that they aspirated: 25 (54%) aspirated thin liquids, 15 (33%) aspirated thickened liquids, and 6 (13%) aspirated purees. Of these patients, 21 (84%), 12 (80%), and 3 (50%) had resolution of their swallowing dysfunction with feeding and swallowing therapy, respectively. A total of 3 patients (7%) required a tracheostomy for their refractory aspiration.

Conclusions and Relevance  We recommend feeding and swallowing therapy for children with normal upper airway anatomy. Brain magnetic resonance imaging should be considered for patients with suspected brainstem or posterior fossa lesion based on neurologic examination findings. Most patients who aspirate thin and thickened liquids will have resolution of their swallowing dysfunction within 1 year of beginning therapy.

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