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What is laryngomalacia?

Laryngomalacia results from a congenital (present at birth) anomaly of the larynx (voice box). A weakness in the structures in the larynx can cause stridor. Stridor is a high-pitched sound that is heard best when the child breathes in (inspiration).

What causes laryngomalacia?

Laryngomalacia is a defect that is present at birth. During fetal development, the cartilaginous structures in the larynx may not fully develop. As a result, there is a weakness in these structures at birth, causing them to collapse during breathing. In children, laryngomalacia is the most common cause of chronic stridor. Sixty percent of infants born with congenital laryngeal stridor will have symptoms in the first week of life. Most other infants will show symptoms by 5 weeks old.

What are the symptoms of laryngomalacia?

The major symptom of this disorder is the stridor that is heard as the infant breathes in (inspiration). Other characteristics of the stridor may include:

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 laryngoscopy and possibly a bronchoscopy of the airways - a procedure that involves a tube being passed into the airways to allow your child's physician to observe the airways during breathing.

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 results in no long-term impairment. In some cases, the stridor is heard up until the age of five. Each child's case is unique. A small percentage develop severe respiratory problems that require medical or surgical intervention.

Reviewed by: Steven D. Handler, MD, MBE
Date: April 2009

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