A branchial cleft abnormality is located in the area around the ear or in the neck region. It may form cysts—pockets that contain fluid—or it may form passages that drain to an opening in the skin surface called fistulas. It is often present at birth or childhood but sometime does not become apparent until adulthood.
A branchial cleft abnormality is a birth defect that occurs during early embryonic development when the structures and tissues that form the ear, neck and throat areas do not properly grow together.
Most branchial cleft cysts or fistulae are asymptomatic, but they may become infected. The cyst usually presents as a smooth, slowly enlarging lateral neck mass that may increase in size after an upper respiratory tract infection. These abnormalities are usually small, but can enlarge enough to cause difficulty swallowing and breathing.
The following are the most common symptoms of a branchial cleft abnormality:
Antibiotics can be successfully used to treat infectious processes associated with branchial cleft abnormality.
Branchial cleft abnormalities often become recurrently infected therefore they are usually removed with surgery. The surgery is done in the operating room, under general anesthesia. The cyst and any associated fistula are completely removed, while preserving the important adjacent structures.
You will receive a thorough diagnostic examination to evaluate if you have a branchial cleft abnormality and determine what course of treatment is needed. Careful monitoring and the involvement of an experienced otolaryngologist are important to the successful outcome for patients with ear, nose and throat disorders and conditions.
If you are having surgery or a procedure, you will likely be scheduled for a visit to the Weiner Center for Preoperative Evaluation for pre-operative information and tests.
The day of surgery, you will be taken care of in the operating room by otolaryngologist, anesthesiologists and nurses who specialize in surgery for patients with branchial cleft abnormalities. After surgery, you will go to the post-surgical care unit where you will receive comprehensive care by experienced surgical and nursing staff.
Learn more about your hospital stay, patient-centered care and returning home.
Brigham and Women’s Hospital provides a multidisciplinary approach to patient care by collaborating with colleagues who have extensive experience in diagnosing and treating ear, nose and throat disorders and conditions. In addition, patients have full access to BWH’s world-renowned academic medical community, with its diverse specialists, and state-of-the-art facilities.
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