Choanal atresia is a narrowing or blockage of the nasal airway by tissue. It is a congenital condition, meaning it is present at birth.
Causes, incidence, and risk factors:
The cause of choanal atresia is unknown. It is thought to occur when the thin tissue separating the nasal and oral spaces during fetal development remains after birth.
The condition is the most common nasal abnormality in newborn infants, affecting about 1 in 7,000 live births. Females get this condition about twice as often as males. More than half of affected infants also have other congenital problems.
Choanal atresia is generally found shortly after birth while the infant is still in the hospital.
Newborns with this condition are known as "obligate nose breathers." This means the baby must breathe through its nose because the oral airway is not yet developed enough to allow for frequent mouth breathing. In fact, almost the only time an infant with choanal atresia does not breathe through its nose is when crying.
Choanal atresia may affect one or both sides of the nasal airway. Choanal atresia blocking both sides (bilateral) of the nose causes acute breathing problems with cyanosis and breathing failure. Infants with bilateral choanal atresia may need resuscitation at delivery. More than half of infants have a blockage on only one side, which causes less severe problems.
- Chest retracts unless the child is breathing through mouth or crying
- Difficulty breathing following birth, which may result in cyanosis (bluish discoloration), unless infant is crying
- Inability to nurse and breathe at same time
- Inability to pass a catheter through each side of the nose into the throat
- Persistent one-sided nasal blockage or discharge
Signs and tests:
A physical examination may show an obstruction of the nose.
Tests that may be done include:
The immediate concern is to resuscitate the baby if necessary. An airway may need to be placed so that the infant can breathe. In some cases, intubation or tracheostomy may be needed.
An infant can learn to mouth breathe, which can delay the need for immediate surgery.
Surgery to remove the obstruction cures the problem. Surgery may be delayed if the infant can tolerate mouth breathing. The surgery may be done through the nose (transnasal) or through the mouth (transpalatal).
Full recovery is expected.
Possible complications include:
Calling your health care provider:
Choanal atresia, especially when it affects both sides, is generally diagnosed shortly after birth while the infant is still in the hospital. One-sided atresia may not cause symptoms, and the infant may be sent home without a diagnosis.
If your infant has any of the problems listed here, consult your health care provider. The child may need to be checked by an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist.
There is no known prevention.
Behrman RE, Kliegman RM, Jenson HB, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 17th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: WB Saunders; 2003.
Cummings CW, Flint PW, Haughey BH, et al. Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 4th ed. St Louis, Mo; Mosby; 2005.