Branchial Cleft Abnormalities

A branchial cleft abnormality is a congenital (present from birth) defect made up of abnormally formed tissue clustered in front of the large muscles on either side of the neck. It occurs when tissues in the neck and collarbone area (the branchial cleft) do not develop normally during development of the embryo.

Different types of branchial cleft abnormalities may form:

  • Cysts or sinuses, which are pockets full of fluid
  • Fistulas, which are passages that drain fluid to an opening in the skin surface

Branchial cleft abnormalities are usually small, but they can get big enough to cause difficulty swallowing and breathing. They also frequently cause infections that keep coming back, which may happen when your child has another infection, like a cold, cough, or sore throat.

Why Choose Cooper to Treat Branchial Abnormalities

With their advanced training and experience, Cooper’s team of otolaryngologists—ear, nose, and throat specialists—are uniquely qualified to treat children with problems affecting this part of the anatomy, and they have a proven track record of successful outcomes.

Symptoms of Branchial Cleft Abnormality

These are the most common symptoms of a branchial cleft abnormality, which may be seen at birth or noticed when your child is older:

  • Small lump or mass on one side of the neck that is usually painless
  • Small opening in the skin on the side of the neck that drains mucus or fluid
  • Redness, warmth, swelling, pain, and drainage if there is an infection

A branchial cleft abnormality may not be noticed unless it becomes infected and is painful.

How Branchial Cleft Abnormality Is Diagnosed

To diagnose the problem, your child’s doctor will ask you questions about your child’s health history and current symptoms, and physically examine your child, paying close attention to the neck.

Diagnostic tests may include:

  • Ultrasound: A painless, non-invasive test in which sound waves are used to look inside the body 
  • CT scan: X-rays and a computer are used to make detailed images of the body. CT scans help to find the exact location of the abnormality and how large it is. Sometimes a contrast dye may be injected during the scan to get more detailed information.
  • Biopsy: This is a test in which tissue samples are removed from the body to be looked at under a microscope; this may be done to check for or rule out other conditions

How a Branchial Abnormality is Treated

Treatment depends on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is. It’s important to note that a branchial cleft abnormality will not go away without treatment.

Treatment may include:

  • Antibiotics if the cyst or sinus is infected; in some cases, the doctor may need to lance (cut into) and drain the area
  • Surgery to remove the tissue, which may be recommended to prevent repeated infections

It’s important to know that surgery has a high success rate, with good results.

Contact Us

To learn more about the services available in the Division of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery or to schedule an appointment, please call 856.342.3113.