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Airway Protection: Evaluation with Videofluoroscopy

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During videofluoroscopic swallowing studies performed in the lateral view, the arytenoid cartilages are seen to elevate and approximate the down-folding epiglottis, effectively closing the supraglottic larynx and protecting the airway. This mechanism may be incomplete or delayed in patients complaining of dysphagia and may lead to “penetration” of bolus material into the airway. This study evaluates the timing of supraglottic closure relative to the arrival of the bolus at the upper esophageal sphincter in 60 young control subjects and in 63 elderly control subjects without dysphagia. Event timing was measured in 0.01-s intervals from videofluoroscopic studies for two liquid bolus size categories. Results of the analysis revealed that, in most individuals, the arytenoid cartilages approximate the epiglottis prior to the arrival of the bolus at the upper esophageal sphincter. However, in both bolus size categories, there were individuals who achieved complete supraglottic closure after the bolus had arrived at the sphincter, but never greater than 0.1 s later. No delay in the timing of supraglottic closure relative to bolus arrival at the sphincter was found in the elderly subject group compared with the young subject group. The information from this study has allowed us to objectively determine if supraglottic closure timing is delayed in patients with dysphagia and to address any delay with strategies and exercises designed specifically to correct the delay. A case study is presented to illustrate the clinical significance of this study.

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Correspondence to Katherine A. Kendall MD.

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Kendall, K.A., Leonard, R.J. & McKenzie, S. Airway Protection: Evaluation with Videofluoroscopy. Dysphagia 19, 65–70 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00455-003-0500-1

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  • Deglutition
  • Aspiration
  • Airway protection
  • Swallowing
  • Deglutition disorders.