A laryngotracheal cleft is a rare birth defect that causes an opening between the upper airway passage and the esophagus.
A laryngotracheal cleft is a gap between the upper airway passage and the esophagus (tube that runs from the mouth to the stomach). This condition is a rare, congenital (from birth) defect that happens during early fetal development in the mother’s womb. Children born with a laryngotracheal cleft have eating and breathing problems.
The upper airway passage consists of the larynx (voice box) and trachea (windpipe). Normally, the upper airway passage and the esophagus are separated, so when a child swallows food, it goes directly to the stomach. In the case of a laryngotracheal cleft, there is an abnormal opening between the passages, making it possible for food and liquid to pass through the larynx and into the lungs.
There are four classifications of laryngotracheal clefts, depending on the exact location of the cleft:
Type I is the mildest form and features a gap between the larynx and esophagus, located above the vocal cords.
Type II is located below the vocal cords and extends into the lower cartilage of the larynx.
Type III extends beyond the larynx and into the trachea.
Type IV is the most severe form and features a gap that extends further down the trachea.
There are no known causes for why a laryngotracheal cleft may form during fetal development.