A thyroglossal duct cyst is a pocket in the front part of neck, just above the voice box, that is filled with fluid. A child is born with this cyst. It’s formed from leftover tissue from the development of the thyroid gland when an embryo was forming.

The thyroid gland is part of the hormone-producing glands called the endocrine system. During embryo development, the thyroid gland begins at the base of the tongue and moves down the neck through a tube called the thyroglossal duct. This duct normally goes away once the thyroid reaches its final position in the neck. Sometimes, however, part of the duct remains, leaving a pocket called a cyst.

Although the cyst is present at birth (congenital), it’s usually not found until a child is at least 2 years old. Often, a doctor finds a thyroglossal duct cyst when a child is being examined for an upper respiratory infection. A cyst often appears during or after an upper respiratory infection because this causes them to enlarge and become painful.

Cooper’s Division of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery is home to a team of ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialists who are experts at treating thyroglossal duct cysts.

Symptoms of a Thyroglossal Duct Cyst

Thyroglossal ducts cysts may have no symptoms and go undetected until they become infected. Symptoms can occur a bit differently in each child. The most common include:

  • A small, soft, round lump in the center front of the neck
  • Tenderness, redness, and swelling of the lump, if it’s infected
  • Difficulty swallowing or breathing

How a Thyroglosssal Duct Cyst Is Diagnosed

A thyroglossal cyst is usually detected during a physical examination. Your child’s healthcare provider will often recommend that your child see an ear, nose, and throat specialist (ENT) due to their experience in treating thyroglossal duct cysts. Your child may need tests such as:

  • Blood tests to check the thyroid gland function
  • Ultrasound exam, which uses sound waves to check the cyst and thyroid gland
  • CT scan of the neck, which uses x-rays and a computer to look at the neck, including the cyst and thyroid gland; a contrast dye is injected or swallowed to get better images 
  • Fine needle aspiration, in which a small needle is used to remove cells from the cyst for diagnosis 

How a Thyroglossal Duct Cyst Is Treated

Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, general health, and how severe the condition is. Treatment may include:

  • Watchful waiting (regular monitoring) if the cyst is small and not causing symptoms
  • Antibiotic medicine to treat an infection
  • Cutting into and draining the cyst, if antibiotic medicine doesn’t get rid of the infection
  • Surgery to remove the cyst; this also allows for further investigation and diagnosis which, in rare cases, can include cancer
  • Injecting a substance to remove the cyst, if a child can’t have surgery

Why Choose Us to Treat a Thyroglossal Duct Cyst

As ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialists, Cooper’s team of otolaryngologists have advanced training and extensive experience in diagnosing and treating thyroglossal duct cysts in children. This expertise translates into consistently excellent outcomes for patients.

In addition, otolaryngology is one of the few specialties qualified to provide both medical and surgical treatment, so children can receive the comprehensive care they need from the same expert provider.

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