Airway obstruction in children with congenital heart disease: assessment by flexible bronchoscopy

Pediatr Pulmonol. 2002 Oct;34(4):304-11. doi: 10.1002/ppul.10164.


We assessed the spectrum of airway disorders in children with congenital cardiac anomalies, and reviewed our experience in using flexible bronchoscopy for assessment of airway problems in this patient group. The clinical records, flexible bronchoscopic findings, and cardiac imaging results of pediatric cardiac patients who presented with either clinical or radiological signs of airway obstruction between 1992-1999 were reviewed. Flexible bronchoscopic assessment was performed with the patients under sedation and topical anesthesia, using one of two bronchoscopes, i.e., an Olympus BFN20 or Olympus BF3C20. Of a total of 52 patients, 33 had acyanotic cardiovascular lesions, the commonest being left-to-right shunts (61%), while 19 had cyanotic heart lesions, with right ventricular outflow obstruction being the commonest (63%). Twenty-seven patients had undergone either surgical or transcatheter interventions. The median age at bronchoscopic assessment was 6 months (range, 4 days to 6 years). None of the patients developed significant procedural complications. A definitive diagnosis was made in 48 (92%) patients, 8 of whom had abnormalities involving only the upper airways, 35 only the lower airways, and 5 both. Abnormalities of the upper airway included laryngomalacia (n = 6), subglottic stenosis (n = 3), pharyngeal collapse (n = 2), and 1 each of choanal stenosis and supraglottitis. Extrinsic compression was the commonest lower airway abnormality that was found in 27/40 patients (67%), with a predilection for the left main bronchus (18/27, 67%). The structures that caused extrinsic compression included dilated pulmonary arteries with or without left atrial dilation (n = 20), an anomalous aortic or pulmonary arterial course (n = 3), a dilated aorta (n = 1), and a shunt (n = 1), but were not obvious in 2 patients. Intrinsic lower airway abnormalities included bronchomalacia (n = 4), tracheal stenosis (n = 4), and one each of variant bronchial bifurcation and a pouch arising from the tracheal wall. Intraluminal mucus plugging of the lower airways occurred in the remaining 3 patients. Children with congenital heart disease are at risk of airway obstruction both before and after surgery. Flexible bronchoscopy, being safe and effective in diagnosing airway disorders in this patient group, should be considered as the first line of investigation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Airway Obstruction / complications
  • Airway Obstruction / diagnosis*
  • Bronchoscopy / methods*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Heart Defects, Congenital / complications*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Respiratory System Abnormalities / diagnosis*