Introduction: Chronic constipation is a common symptom in pediatrics, and physicians often use mineral oil to treat chronic constipation in children. Mineral oil, a hydrocarbon, may not elicit a normal protective cough reflex and may impair mucociliary transport. These effects can increase the likelihood of its aspiration and subsequent impaired clearance from the respiratory tract. We report a case of a child with neurodevelopmental delay with chronic constipation and a history of chronic mineral oil ingestion presenting as asymptomatic exogenous lipoid pneumonia (ELP).
Case history: A 6-year-old white boy with a history of developmental delay was found to have an infiltrate in his right upper lobe on a chest radiograph obtained during evaluation for thoracic scoliosis. The patient had a long history of constipation with daily use of mineral oil. He was fed by mouth and had occasional episodes of coughing and choking during feeding. He was asymptomatic at presentation and physical examination was unremarkable. The patient was advised to stop administration of the mineral oil and was treated empirically with antibiotics during a 3-month period. At follow-up examination the patient continued to be asymptomatic, with the radiologic persistence of the infiltrate. Diagnosis of lipoid pneumonia was made by diagnostic bronchoscopy with bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL). The exogenous origin of the lipid in the BAL fluid was confirmed by gas chromatography/mass spectrometry.
Discussion: The clinical presentation of ELP is nonspecific and ranges from the totally asymptomatic patient with incidental radiologic finding, like our patient, to the patient with acute or chronic symptoms attributable to pneumonia, pulmonary fibrosis, or cor pulmonale. Bronchoscopy with BAL can be successful in establishing the diagnosis of ELP by demonstration of a high lipid-laden macrophage index. Treatment of ELP in children is generally supportive, with the symptoms and roentgenographic abnormalities resolving within months after stopping the use of mineral oil.
Conclusion: Lipoid pneumonia as a result of mineral oil aspiration still occurs in the pediatric population. It can mimic other diseases because of its nonspecific clinical presentation and radiographic signs. In patients with swallowing dysfunction and pneumonia, a history of mineral oil use should be obtained and a diagnosis of ELP should be considered in the differential diagnoses if mineral oil use has occurred. Our case points to the need for increased awareness by the general pediatricians of the potential hazards of mineral oil use for chronic constipation.