Objectives/hypothesis: To determine the utility of preoperative feeding assessments in children undergoing airway reconstruction, identifying parameters that correlate with functional deficits in swallowing and postoperative feeding difficulties.
Study design: Prospective, sequential enrollment.
Methods: Two hundred fifty-five patients with structural abnormalities of the upper aerodigestive tract underwent endoscopic swallow studies. Classification of preoperative feeding abilities, specific feeding disorders, and abnormal endoscopic feeding parameters were used to predict the postoperative course of patients undergoing airway reconstruction. The relationships between diagnoses and functional feeding categories and postoperative outcomes and functional feeding categories were appraised by chi2 analysis.
Results: The median age of the study population was 2.5 years. Fifty-three percent of the patients were tracheotomy dependent. Only 13% of the patients had diagnoses limited to the airway, with 45% of patients having three or more diagnoses. Worse preoperative feeding abilities were associated with the presence of a tracheotomy, age 2 years or less, and multiple underlying diagnoses. Neurological diagnoses were associated with worse feeding abilities. Preoperative feeding assessments directly altered the course of management of 15% of operative patients, by recommending a delay in the surgical correction, the placement of a gastrostomy tube preoperatively, or a modification in the surgical reconstruction planned for the patient. Postoperative airway protection predictions were 80% accurate. Twelve percent of the predictions involved patients who developed unforeseen complications that required additional treatments or prolonged the hospital stay secondary to difficulties with airway protection. There was no correlation between the preoperative feeding abilities of the patients and their postoperative course after airway reconstruction.
Conclusion: Transient dysphagia is common after laryngotracheal reconstruction. Preoperative feeding abilities do not correlate with the postoperative airway protection abilities of a patient. Feeding assessments before pediatric airway reconstruction provide a means of identifying patients with poor airway protection mechanisms that may compromise the patient after reconstruction. Findings on swallowing evaluations that predict poor airway protective mechanisms are 1) pooling of secretions in the hypopharynx, 2) poor oral motor skills, allowing premature spillage of material into the hypopharynx where it penetrates the larynx, and 3) residue that persists in the hypopharynx after multiple swallows. The integration of information generated from the preoperative swallowing assessment promotes the selection of operative procedures that are optimal for that patient and highlights specific therapy issues that may need to be addressed in the postoperative management of the patient that may not have been obvious without the study.