What is Laryngomalacia?

Laryngomalacia is an anomaly of the larynx (voice box) in which the softening tissue collapses inward during inhalation, causing airway obstruction. Laryngomalacia is the most common cause of congenital laryngeal stridor. Stridor is a high-pitched sound that is heard best when the child breaths in (inspiration).

What Causes Laryngomalacia?

The exact cause is unknown, but it is a common condition among infants. Sixty percent of infants born with laryngomalacia will have symptoms in the first week of life. Most other infants will show symptoms by 5 weeks of age.

What are the Symptoms of Laryngomalacia?

The major symptom of this disorder is stridor that is heard as the infant inhales (inspiration), but can also be heard when the infant breaths out (expiration). Other characteristics of the stridor may include:

  • The stridor changes with activity. (Improves when vigorously crying)
  • The stridor is usually less noisy when the child is laying on his/her stomach.
  • The stridor gets worse if the infant has an upper respiratory infection.

The symptoms of laryngomalacia may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.

How is Laryngomalacia Diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for laryngomalacia may include flexible laryngoscopy, where by a fiberoptic (flexible) tube is placed through the nose into the back of the throat. This is generally done in the otolaryngologist's office as the condition is best diagnosed while the child is awake. If the condition is not conclusively diagnosed in the ofice, then the infant may undergo general anesthesia to examine the airway below the voicebox to look for other conditions that may cause stridor.

Treatment for Laryngomalacia:

In most cases, laryngomalacia is a harmless condition that resolves on its own, without medical intervention. The condition usually improves by the time the infant is 18 months old and has no long-term complications. In some cases, the stridor is apparent until about the age of 5. Each child's case is unique. A small percentage develop severe respiratory problems which require medical and surgical interventions, generally within the first week to few months of life.