Pediatric airway problems run the gamut from voice and swallowing disorders to tonsil and adenoid infections, acid reflux, asthma and reactive airway disease, and obstructive sleep apnea. They can affect the larynx, trachea, lungs, and bronchioles, and are characterized by breathing difficulties.
What Causes Pediatric Airway Problems?
If your child is experiencing breathing difficulties, the cause can vary widely. Any number of disorders and diseases may be to blame. One of the more common underlying conditions is called silent reflux; this occurs when the sphincter muscles of the esophagus fail to close properly after a meal, allowing stomach acids to flow into the esophagus. The throat and larynx become inflamed, causing irritation and swelling and leading to trouble breathing and swallowing. Similar to acid reflux in adults, silent reflux shares many of the same symptoms, but does not usually include heartburn.
How Does a Doctor Diagnose & Treat Airway Problems?
The key to treating airway problems and eliminating breathing difficulties is to figure out what is causing your child’s symptoms. His or her pediatrician will administer a thorough physical exam and talk about your child’s symptoms and prior medical history. A number of diagnostic tests are available, including:
Pulmonary function tests, such as spirometry, a breathing test that measures how much air can be exhaled from the lungs, and how quickly. This is useful in determining the level of airway obstruction.
An endoscopic exam. This procedure allows your child’s doctor to view the throat and vocal cords with a camera attached to a flexible tube.
pH monitoring. A catheter is inserted through the nose and into the throat and esophagus, and used to check for acid levels. The catheter is kept in place for 24 hours, after which time the computerized results are examined.
X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, blood tests, and allergy skin tests may all be given, as well.
Treatment depends upon the severity of your child’s symptoms and what is causing them, and can vary widely. It is critical that you bring your child to the doctor at the first sign of an airway problem so a proper treatment plan can be formulated.