Aerodigestive Tract: What is the Aerodigestive Tract?

What is the Aerodigestive Tract?

The combined tissues and organs of the upper part of the digestive tract and the respiratory tract are defined as the aerodigestive tract. Included in the aerodigestive tract are the oral cavity (mouth), pyriform sinus, larynx, pharynx, esophagus, as well as the nose and sinus tract. So essentially the aerodigestive tract is the region in the throat and oral cavity where both food and air pass. Helping us serve the functions of speaking, eating, and breathing during our waking and sleeping hours.

Disorders of the Aerodigestive Tract

A complex condition that can affect the upper airway, lungs, as well as the digestive tract, aerodigestive disorders can affect a person’s ability to eat, swallow, and breathe. Common disorders of the aerodigestive tract (mouth, nose, throat, esophagus, lungs, and stomach) include:

Esophageal Disorders

• Achalasia
• Caustic ingestion
• Colonic interposition
• Eosinophilic Esophagitis (EoE)
• Esophageal atresia
• Esophageal diverticula
• Esophageal duplication
• Esophageal dysmotility disorders
• Esophageal strictures
• Esophageal webs
• Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
• Tracheoesophageal Fistula (TEF)

Pulmonary Disorders

• Aspiration
• Bronchomalacia

Upper Airway Disorders

• Laryngeal cleft
• Laryngeal web
• Laryngeal stenosis
• Severe laryngomalacia
• Vocal fold paralysis

Symptoms of an Aerodigestive Disorder

Symptoms that can indicate an aerodigestive disorder include:

• Resistant asthma
• Coughing (chronic)
• Failure to thrive
• Frequent vomiting, or regurgitation of food
• Croup (barking cough-recurrent)
• Respiratory infections (recurrent)
• Noisy, high-pitched breathing
• Choking episodes
• Painful or difficult swallowing (dysphagia)
• Reflux that affects the airway

How is an Aerodigestive Disorder Diagnosed?

If you want your plan of care to be effective, you need to have an accurate diagnosis. The following state of the art tools are currently used to make an accurate diagnosis of an aerodigestive disorder.

• Chest and/or neck CT scan
• Chest x-ray
• Airway fluoroscopy
• Video swallow study
• Upper GI (gastrointestinal tract) x-ray
• FEES (fiberoptic endoscopic evaluation of swallowing)
• Pulmonary function testing (PFT) – both exercise-induced and endoscopic-assisted PFT