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Pediatric Airway & Voice Disorders

Airway and voice disorders may often be treated successfully, allowing normal development for your child. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA—difficulty breathing during sleep due to a blockage in the airway) is one of the most common airway disorders among children. Removal of the tonsils or adenoids often clears up the problem. Other causes of OSA include:

  • Allergies or infections
  • Tumors
  • Malformation of the mandible (lower jaw)
  • Obesity
  • Poor muscle tone

Children with this condition may have various symptoms that include difficulty staying awake during the day and behaving as though they have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Over time, obstructive sleep apnea may damage the heart, so it is important to have your child seen by a physician if his or her behavior changes for no apparent reason.

Voice disorders such as hoarseness may be caused by overuse and abuse of the voice. Shouting too much is an example of this abuse. Voice disorders may appear at birth, and can be disruptive. More severe voice problems may delay language development, but children usually recover this development after the condition is treated.

Over time, vocal cords may develop growths, called nodules. Trauma (injury) to the voice box may also affect the child’s ability to make sound appropriate for speech. A neck injury may cause this, or it may be the result of a breathing tube used during treatment of another condition.

Other causes of voice disorders are poor nerve connections between the brain and the throat and congenital malformations of the throat and voice box. A child born with one of these problems may be diagnosed at birth or within the first few weeks of life.

Our specialists have extensive experience recognizing OSA in children and can make an accurate diagnosis that leads to effective treatment. We provide multidisciplinary care with strong support for your family. All necessary speech and hearing therapies and treatments are available within the IU Health system.

Our physicians are members of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery and other organizations that keep us in contact with the latest developments in otolaryngology. Parents bring their children to us from all around Indiana and beyond.

As faculty in the Indiana University School of Medicine, we are specialists who also educate the next generation of physicians. We work with residents (new physicians) and fellows (experienced physicians acquiring advanced training) to provide additional perspectives on airway and voice disorders.

Research is another way we contribute to effective treatment and understanding of airway and voice disorders. We are currently studying laryngomalacia (floppy voice box), which can obstruct the airway. This congenital disorder is often apparent shortly after birth. Symptoms of laryngomalacia include noisy breathing and a high, squeaky noise on breathing in. The condition often resolves on its own in the first 18 months of an infant’s life, but severe cases may require surgery.

How We Can Help

How We Can Help

Pediatric Airway & Voice Disorders Treatment Information

One of the most common airway disorders in children is obstructive sleep apnea. Among the causes of obstructed airways are infections and allergies. These may interfere with breathing through the nose or obstruct the throat and make breathing difficult.

When infection or allergy causes the obstruction, medical treatment, adapting your household or changing your child’s behavior may sometimes solve the problem. Such problems as enlarged tonsils or congenital defects often require surgery to correct sleep apnea. About 80 percent of the time, removal of the tonsils or adenoids or surgical correction of another airway obstruction solves the problem. If apnea continues, we may need to investigate further to determine what other treatment is necessary. It is important to have your child treated for airway problems because they may create difficulties for him or her and eventually cause heart problems to develop.

We sometimes perform sleep studies on children to determine the nature of their apnea and its cause. A sleep study after treatment can confirm the success of changes made to correct your child’s airway disorder.

Voice disorders may disrupt your child’s social development. If he or she cannot form words properly, your child may not acquire language skills at a normal rate. Problems such as a cleft palate or other malformations of the face, mouth or neck require surgery to reconstruct the normal or near-normal formations necessary for breathing, voice and speech.

When your child is ready, we also provide speech therapy to help make up for delayed development. Once we treat the underlying disorders to restore normal voice function, children can improve their language skills.

A key element of our treatment for these disorders is family involvement. Each child and family has unique needs—medically, emotionally and socially. Our physicians and therapists work with you to develop a treatment plan that works for your child and for you. We need your help and participation to ensure the best long-term outcome.


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Pediatric Airway & Voice Disorders Support Services

You can help your child with these disorders by learning more about them. Increased knowledge may help you work more effectively with your child’s physicians and therapists.