Purpose: The authors undertook a 10-year review of bronchoscopies for airway foreign bodies in children to test assertions in previous reports that (1) characteristic abnormalities in chest radiographs are important indicators of the need for bronchoscopy and (2) experienced operators incur negligible complications.
Methods: The medical records of 293 children who underwent bronchoscopies by experienced pediatric surgeons for suspected airway foreign bodies were reviewed for patient age, symptoms, duration of symptoms before bronchoscopy, prebronchoscopy radiographs, type of foreign body, anatomic location of foreign body, success of bronchoscopic removal, length of hospital stay, and complications.
Results: Of the 293 bronchoscopies, 265 showed airway foreign bodies. A choking episode was recorded in 228 of the 265 patients with foreign bodies and 5 of the 28 with negative bronchoscopy. The surgeon thought that radiographs were normal at the time of bronchoscopy in 110 patients who had foreign bodies. Nine patients with foreign bodies had atypical radiographs; three had bilateral emphysema and six had upper lobe or bilateral atelectasis or pneumonia. There were three complications: one vocal cord injury requiring temporary tracheostomy, one tracheal laceration from removal of an aspirated tooth, and one severe postoperative subglottic edema requiring a 4-day hospital stay. The age of the patients, symptoms, types of foreign bodies, locations of foreign bodies, management, and outcomes were similar to those of previous reports.
Conclusions: In children with airway foreign bodies, chest radiograph findings are frequently normal and can display abnormalities uncharacteristic for foreign body aspiration. Children witnessed to choke while having small particles in their mouths and noted subsequently to have raspy respiration, wheezing, or coughing should undergo prompt bronchoscopy regardless of radiographic findings. Complications of bronchoscopy for foreign body aspiration are uncommon but occur even in experienced hands.