Study objectives: To compare the clinical and management aspects of tracheobronchial aspirated foreign body (AFB) removal in children and adults; to assess the influence of the operator's experience on the outcome of the procedure.
Design: A retrospective review of a 20-year experience (from 1976 to 1996).
Setting: A 900-bed university hospital.
Patients: Eighty-four children up to 8 years old (the child group) and 28 adult patients (the adult group).
Results: The peak incidence of foreign body aspiration occurred during the second year of life in the child group and during the sixth decade in the adult group. The symptoms at presentation were similar in both age groups, but the diagnosis was significantly delayed in the adults. The AFBs were lodged preferentially in the right bronchial tree only in the adults; a central location was predominant (but not at all exclusive) in the children. Atelectasis was more common in the adults, and air trapping was more common in the children. The most frequent procedure was rigid bronchoscopy; when a flexible bronchoscope was used, it was always in the adult patients. When the operator was less experienced, a failed first attempt at bronchoscopy and the need for a second procedure were significantly more frequent.
Conclusions: At presentation, the symptoms seen with AFBs do not differ according to the age of the patient; however, the delay to diagnosis, the location of the AFBs, and the radiographic images differ between child and adult populations. The removal of AFBs in patients of all ages can be performed by the same operators. Because the outcome associated with these procedures improves when the operator is experienced, the removal of AFBs should be performed in medical centers that are capable of acquiring and maintaining the necessary expertise.