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Structural airway abnormalities contribute to dysphagia in children with esophageal atresia and tracheoesophageal fistula.

BACKGROUND: Long-term dysphagia occurs in up to 50% of repaired esophageal atresia and tracheoesophageal fistula (EA/TEF) patients. The underlying factors are unclear and may include stricture, esophageal dysmotility, or associated anomalies. Our purpose was to determine whether structural airway abnormalities (SAA) are associated with dysphagia in EA/TEF.

METHODS: We conducted a retrospective chart review of children who underwent EA/TEF repair in our hospital system from 2007 to 2016. Children with identified SAA (oropharyngeal abnormalities, laryngeal clefts, laryngomalacia, vocal cord paralysis, and tracheomalacia) were compared to those without airway abnormalities. Dysphagia outcomes were determined by the need for tube feeding and the modified pediatric Functional Oral Intake Scale (FOIS) at 1 year.

RESULTS: SAA was diagnosed in 55/145 (37.9%) patients with EA/TEF. Oropharyngeal aspiration was more common in children with SAA (58.3% vs. 36.4%, p=0.028). Children with SAA were more likely to require tube feeding both at discharge (79.6% vs. 48.3%, p<0.001) and at 1 year (52.7% vs. 13.6%, p<0.001) and had lower mean FOIS (4.18 vs. 6.21, p<0.001). In the logistic regression model adjusting for gestational age, long gap EA, and esophageal stricture, the presence of SAA remained a significant risk factor for dysphagia (OR 4.17 (95% CI 1.58-11.03)).

CONCLUSION: SAA are common in children with EA/TEF and are associated with dysphagia, even after accounting for gestational age, esophageal gap and stricture. This study highlights the need for a multidisciplinary approach, including early laryngoscopy and bronchoscopy, in the evaluation of the EA/TEF child with dysphagia.

LEVEL OF EVIDENCE: Level II retrospective prognostic study.

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