Etiology and long-term functional swallow outcomes in pediatric unilateral vocal fold immobility

Kathleen M. Tibbetts, Derek Wu, Jeffrey V. Hsu, William B. Burton, Michel Nassar, Melin Tan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Objective Unilateral vocal fold immobility (UVFI) results in deficits in phonatory, respiratory, and swallow function of the pediatric patient. Little is known about long-term functional swallow outcomes. Methods Medical records of children diagnosed with UVFI between 2005 and 2014 at a tertiary children's hospital were retrospectively reviewed. Etiology, laryngoscopy findings, and swallow status at diagnosis and follow-up were recorded. Swallow outcomes were compared by etiology using Fisher's exact test. McNemar's test was used to identify correlations between return of mobility and swallow recovery. Rates of pneumonia were compared with initial swallow evaluation results using a two-tailed t-test. Results Eighty-eight patients with UVFI were identified and 73 patients (47% female, mean age 14.4 months, standard deviation (SD) 26.7 months) had complete medical records. Mean follow up time was 52.7 months (SD 36.8 months). Etiologies included cardiothoracic surgery (68.5%), idiopathic (12.3%), prolonged intubation (11.0%), central nervous system (CNS) abnormality (5.5%), and non-cardiac iatrogenic injury to the recurrent laryngeal nerve (2.7%). Forty-seven patients underwent a follow up laryngoscopy, and recovery of vocal fold (VF) mobility was documented in 42.6% (20/47). At diagnosis, 31.5% fed orally, compared with 79.5% at follow-up. Direct correlation between recovery of VF mobility and swallow recovery was not demonstrated. Cardiac etiologies demonstrated higher rates of swallow recovery than CNS abnormalities (p=0.0393). Twenty-five children aspirated on initial modified barium swallow (MBS) and 10 children developed pneumonias at some point during the follow up period. There was no significant difference in rates of pneumonia in patients with and without aspiration on MBS. Conclusion Recovery of swallow in children with UVFI does not directly parallel return of VF mobility. Long-term swallow outcome is favorable in this population. Initial MBS does not indicate ultimate swallow outcome.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)179-183
Number of pages5
JournalInternational journal of pediatric otorhinolaryngology
StatePublished - Sep 1 2016


  • Aspiration
  • Dysphagia
  • Modified barium swallow
  • Pediatric
  • Unilateral vocal fold immobility

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Otorhinolaryngology


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