Long-term follow-up of oropharyngeal dysphagia in children without apparent risk factors

Maureen Lefton-Greif, John L. Carroll, Gerald M. Loughlin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Background. The presence of swallowing dysfunction in children without obvious risk factors remains under appreciated. Early identification and prompt initiation of appropriate treatments are critical for reduction of morbidities associated with dysphagia. Objective. To describe the clinical presentations, radiologic characteristics, and long-term outcomes in children with oropharyngeal dysphagia presenting as unexplained respiratory problems. We completed a retrospective chart review of all children without known dysphagic risk factors upon presentation to Speech-Language Pathology (December 1991-April 1995) for feeding/swallowing evaluations because of refractory respiratory problems and dysphagic concerns, and who subsequently were diagnosed with dysphagia on Videofluoroscopic Swallow Study (VFSS). In August 2002, follow-up telephone interviews were conducted with caregivers of 14 children. Results. We identified 19 children (mean age 1.14 years; range 0.9-5.75) with dysphagia presenting as unexplained respiratory problems. On VFSS, delayed pharyngeal swallow onset was the most common abnormal radiologic finding and always preceded penetration or tracheal aspiration. Eleven (57.9%) children aspirated. Aspiration occurred only with liquids and 100% of aspiration events were silent (i.e., no cough). Dysphagia was not a concern in 11 children at a mean age 3.2 years (range 0.7-10) and persisted in three children who were 9 years or older. Conclusions. Oropharyngeal dysphagia should be considered in the differential diagnosis of young children without known risk factors associated with swallowing dysfunction when they present with unexplained respiratory problems. Although the prognosis for resolution of dysphagic concerns is very good, it may take several years.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1040-1048
Number of pages9
JournalPediatric Pulmonology
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2006



  • Deglutition
  • Deglutition disorders
  • Dysphagia
  • Pediatric
  • Silent aspiration
  • Swallowing
  • Videofluoroscopy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine

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