About the Neonatal Airway Program

The Neonatal Airway Program at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia is a collaborative program between the Center for Pediatric Airway Disorders and the Division of Neonatology. The largest multidisciplinary program of its kind with more than 100 referrals each year, the Neonatal Airway Program is devoted solely to the evaluation, treatment and follow-up care of all neonates and infants with complex airway issues.

Housed within Children's Hospital's Harriet and Ronald Lassin Newborn/Infant Intensive Care Unit (N/IICU), the Neonatal Airway Program serves as the only full-service regional evaluation center for neonates and infants with congenital and acquired airway malformations or disorders, including complex airway issues associated with extreme prematurity, genetic syndromes, congenital birth defects, vascular tumors, and acquired upper airway, vocal cord or other tracheal-airway problems.

Our program offers these infants seamless care, employing the newest and most innovative diagnostic and therapeutic modalities. The program also provides extensive on-site counseling and pre-tracheostomy education to parents and caregivers by airway clinicians who are directly involved with each referral.

Our coordinated, multidisciplinary approach to specialized evaluation and management of these life-threatening conditions allows clinicians to communicate and work together easily so we can provide the most comprehensive, customized care for your child.

If your child would benefit from the care of our dedicated program, we can help coordinate the transfer of infants to our N/IICU. Additionally, if your child is diagnosed with a life-threatening airway disorder before birth, our Hospital’s Garbose Family Special Delivery Unit is equipped to manage these complex deliveries, with expert pediatric airway otolaryngologists in attendance to provide immediate care for your infant.

Conditions we treat

The Neonatal Airway Program treats a wide range of congenital and acquired airway malformations and disorders, including:

For more information about craniofacial conditions and related services, see our Neonatal Craniofacial Program.

Multidisciplinary team

The multidisciplinary team at CHOP's Neonatal Airway Program has extensive experience treating infants with airway disorders. Our team focuses on providing expert medical care for each patient, as well as emotional support for the entire family.

As part of a multidisciplinary practice, patients are evaluated for swallowing function by a team of specialized speech language pathologists who focus on swallowing and voice disorders.

Our specialized team includes:

  • Pediatric otolaryngologists (ENT)
  • Pediatric plastic surgeons
  • Neonatologists
  • Neonatal geneticists
  • Airway nurse practitioners and nurses
  • Respiratory therapists
  • Speech language pathologists
  • Pediatric audiologists
  • Pediatric pulmonologists
  • Pediatric anesthesiologists
  • Pediatric gastroenterologists
  • Social workers and case managers

Our program collaborates with other specialists and centers throughout the Hospital to ensure infants receive the focused care they need. Patients benefit from around-the-clock access to experts in every pediatric subspecialty.

Expert evaluation

When referred to the Neonatal Airway Program, your child will undergo an airway evaluation by our pediatric otolaryngology team, which deals exclusively with neonatal and infant airway disorders. We are equipped to evaluate infants from the nares all the way down the main bronchial trees.

Common diagnostic procedures we perform include:

  • Bedside flexible nasopharyngolaryngoscopy (NPL)
  • Microlaryngoscopy and bronchoscopy (MLB) performed in the operating room

We also perform specialized, low-dose CT angiogram with 3-D reconstruction and cardiac MRI to evaluate the entire airway and adjacent vascular structures. This technology allows us to diagnose vascular rings and define head and neck tumor complexity and overall airway anomalies that are otherwise difficult to find with conventional imaging.

Working with speech language pathologists, we also offer FEES (fiber optic endoscopic evaluation of swallowing), which looks at a child’s swallow under direct visualization. Our program’s airway nurse practitioners are directly involved with each referral and provide extensive onsite counseling and pre-tracheostomy education.

Airway research 

Research is a key component of CHOP's Neonatal Airway Program. We are engaged in studies to improve patient outcomes and enhance the field of otolaryngology.

Our current research includes:

  • Gene-transfer methods of growth factors to prevent subglottic stenosis
  • Genetic analysis of congenital airway problems
  • Comparison of surgical outcomes of congenital and acquired stenosis
  • Bedside patient-oriented research involving tracheostomy skin protection devices
  • Bedside sleep studies of patients with micrognathia and other airway problems — before and after intervention
  • Development of a surgical atlas of pediatric airway surgery
  • Creation of a tracheostomy database and analysis of predictors in neonatal tracheostomy