Aerodigestive Tract Disorders

The breathing airway and the digestive system share the mouth and throat down to the voice box (larynx). The airway and digestive tract and are so close together that a problem in one often results in a problem in the other, so the two are often considered together as a unit called the "aerodigestive tract."

If your child has an aerodigestive tract disorder, you can trust the internationally recognized specialists, surgeons and researchers throughout Nemours Children’s Health System to provide advanced, life-enhancing care for your child and family.

Read More About Aerodigestive Tract Disorders

Aerodigestive tract disorders can affect a child’s physical health and functioning, and can also impact healthy social and emotional development. While there is no single cause for these conditions, there are many treatments available to correct and manage aerodigestive tract disorders and related conditions so that your child can live a happy, independent life.

Some of our Nemours locations feature coordinated multidisciplinary aerodigestive disorders programs where your family can see specialists from areas such as otolaryngology (also called “ear, nose and throat,” or “ENT”), pulmonology, medical imaging (radiology), speech and language therapy, gastroenterology (GI) and nutrition during a single visit. Our experts work together, with you, to develop a treatment plan that cares for your child in the short and long term.

Expert Care You Can Trust

At Nemours, our pediatric aerodigestive tract disorders programs include highly specialized, board-certified and fellowship-trained pediatric experts (ear, nose and throat surgeons, gastroenterologists, pulmonologists, general surgeons, cardiothoracic surgeons and more) who have extensive experience providing innovative, researched-based treatments, including minimally invasive endoscopic procedures for even our tiniest newborn patients.

Working together with other pediatric medical specialists, we also anticipate and manage problems with feeding/swallowing, breathing and speech that may occur as your child grows and develops. Our pediatric aerodigestive tract disorders programs offer coordinated, family-centered care to streamline the management of complex aerodigestive tract disorders.

Types of Aerodigestive Tract Disorders We Treat

At Nemours, we treat nearly every pediatric aerodigestive problem, from the mild to the most severe conditions. Aerodigestive tract disorders we treat include:

  • airway stenosis (narrowing of the larynx, windpipe or its branches to the lungs)
  • aspiration (inhalation of food, liquid or saliva into the lungs)
  • breathing problems caused by narrowing or weakness of the airways
  • congenital pulmonary airway malformation (problem developed before birth)
  • dysphagia (swallowing problems)
  • eosinophilic esophagitis (inflammation of the esophagus causing narrowing of the opening)
  • esophageal atresia (esophagus doesn’t connect to the stomach)
  • esophageal diverticuli (pockets on the inside side of the esophagus that can trap food)
  • foreign body management
  • gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD; passage of stomach contents upward through the esophagus)
  • laryngomalacia (softening of the tissues of the larynx [voice box] and the most common cause of noisy breathing in infants)
  • tracheoesophageal fistula (opening between the windpipe and esophagus)
  • tracheomalacia (thinning or weakness of the trachea)
Symptoms of Aerodigestive Tract Disorders

Aerodigestive disorders vary from mild to severe, and the symptoms can be obvious or subtle. Symptoms may be present at birth or develop over time. Some common symptoms and complications from aerodigestive tract disorders include:

  • dysphagia (difficult or painful swallowing)
  • inability to swallow
  • breathing difficulty
  • frequent vomiting or regurgitation of food
  • frequent lung infections
  • persistent coughing or choking after feeding
  • bad breath
  • drooling
  • noisy or high-pitched breathing
  • inability to speak or hum
  • failure to thrive
  • lack of normal weight gain
  • stridor (wheezing or other sounds from the upper airway)
  • hoarseness

Nemours specialists look for and manage all symptoms of aerodigestive tract disorders in children.