Prematurity and associated future paediatric airway pathology: experience from a single tertiary paediatric ENT centre



Enhanced management of the pre-term patient has resulted in improved survival rates in increasingly premature patients. Although prematurity predisposes to congenital airway pathology, there is also increased risk of endotracheal intubation, and therefore acquired subglottic pathology. We sought to evaluate airway pathology in children outside the neonatal period with a history of prematurity to explore the relationship between prematurity and upper airway pathologies.


Data for patients undergoing elective microlaryngobronchoscopy (MLB) at our centre were collected prospectively over a 5-year period. Patients identified as premature were sub-classified by the grade of prematurity.


339 patients over 1 month of age underwent MLB, of which 56 (16.5%) were born prematurely. Of those with identified airway pathology, 49 (23.4%) were born prematurely, accounting for 32.6% of subglottic stenosis (n = 30), 24% of laryngomalacia (n = 13) and 19% of laryngeal cleft diagnoses (n = 16). 49 premature patients (87.5%) had one or more airway pathologies diagnosed. Multi-level airway pathology was seen in twelve premature infants (21.4%), demonstrating a statistically significant association (odds ratio 3.396; 95% CI 1.697–6.842; p value < 0.0016). Incidence of airway pathology, the severity of airway disease and multi-level airway pathology were not related to the grade of prematurity.


Premature patients account for a significant proportion of the workload within our tertiary centre due to improving neonatal care and survival in pre-term infants. We suggest early paediatric ENT evaluation for ex-premature patients with symptoms of airway pathology, with a low threshold for MLB. Improving neonatal survival rates in ever-increasing prematurity will require the further provision of specialist paediatric ENT services to manage their ongoing care.

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Correspondence to Nilesh Vakharia.

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This study was approved by our in-hospital clinical governance and audit board.

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Vakharia, N., Maity, A., Bajaj, G. et al. Prematurity and associated future paediatric airway pathology: experience from a single tertiary paediatric ENT centre. Eur Arch Otorhinolaryngol 277, 3179–3184 (2020).

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  • Prematurity
  • Microlaryngobronchoscopy
  • Subglottic stenosis
  • Laryngeal cleft
  • Laryngomalacia
  • Paediatric airway