Velopharyngeal incompetence: role in paediatric swallowing deficits

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Abstract

Purpose of review

The purpose of this manuscript is to highlight the latest advances in diagnosis and management of velopharyngeal incompetence (VPI) as it pertains to swallowing deficits in children. This is timely and relevant as otolaryngologists are often amongst the first to diagnose and treat VPI. Although nasal regurgitation of a bolus is frequently transient, persistent problems can be associated with other swallowing problems and other significant medical problems. Furthermore, velopharyngeal incompetence has implications for speech production.

Recent findings

Persistent VPI associated with a swallowing deficit can be an isolated anomaly with or without a cleft palate or submucous cleft palate. VPI may be secondary to a cranial neuropathy, esophageal abnormality or associated with another airway anomaly, any of which may further contribute to dysphagia. Findings of additional anomalies may be suggestive of a syndrome. Workup should explore these potential causes. When velopharyngeal incompetence is associated with dysphagia, fiberoptic endoscopic evaluation of swallow (FEES) and videofluoroscopic swallow study (VFSS) can be helpful in diagnosis and management. The advantages and disadvantages of FEES and VFSS have been well delineated over the past few years. Similarly, nasopharyngoscopy and fluoroscopy are increasingly used in diagnosis and management of VPI that is associated with hypernasal resonance disorders.

Summary

Concurrent medical diagnoses or syndrome manifestations are often associated with or contribute significantly to the cause of dysphagia in children with VPI. As VPI can be a sign of brainstem vagal neuropathy, the clinician should investigate by imaging the CNS if other correlative symptoms of dysphagia and examination findings are present. Endoscopy is advocated for evaluation of vocal fold function. Fluoroscopy is best for further assessment of airway protection or safety of swallow. And, whenever indicated, additional workup is recommended to determine an underlying cause of the swallowing disorder.

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