Children are susceptible to a number of airway problems, thanks in part to the fact that their anatomy and immune systems aren’t yet fully developed. Many conditions are minor and easily treatable, but others require specialized intervention.
Types of Airway Disorders
The most common airway problems in children are upper and lower respiratory tract infections. These can be attributed to colds, influenza, croup, sinus infections, bronchiolitis, asthma and pneumonia, and make breathing difficult. Symptoms include shortness of breath, wheezing, rapid breathing and congestion.
Acid reflux can also occur in children. Known medically as laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR) or silent reflux, this occurs when acids in the stomach back up – or reflux – into the throat. Caused by an improperly functioning esophageal sphincter muscle, symptoms of reflux are similar to those of GERD (acid reflux) and include difficulty swallowing, sore throat, cough, postnasal drip and wheezing. Thankfully, heartburn is not usually present with this condition.
Other airway disorders common in children include allergies, teething and sleep apnea.
Treating Airway Problems
If your child is experiencing problems breathing, the first order of business will be to figure out what is causing his/her airway difficulties. A thorough physical examination will take place, and questions will be asked about current symptoms and their medical history. Diagnostic testing may be ordered to help narrow down the cause; this could include x-rays, CT scans, MRI, an examination of the vocal cords known as laryngoscopy, and a similar procedure, bronchoscopy, that focuses on the lungs and trachea.
Treatment will depend on the underlying cause of the airway problem, and could include anything from dietary and lifestyle changes to medication or surgery.