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Thyroglossal Duct Cyst: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment Options

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Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

If your child ever starts to complain that they feel like they have a strange lump in their throat, a visit to a pediatrician is recommended as soon as possible. According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, this feeling can be caused by a condition called a thyroglossal duct cyst (TGDC) that sometimes occurs in young children. This lump is commonly noticed after an upper respiratory infection, so if your child has recently been sick, that could be another warning sign.

What Causes This Cyst and How Common Is It?

According to a review published in Surgical Oncology, a TGDC can begin to develop before a child is even born. During the ninth week of gestation, as the thyroid gland finishes forming in the fetus, the thyroglossal duct might fail to curve inward. This duct is located from the base of the tongue to the middle-front portion of the neck. As the American Pediatric Surgical Association (APSA) explains, this condition is also fittingly known as a thyroglossal duct remnant, because part of the thyroglossal duct remains when it normally dissolves. This leftover tract can create a fluid-filled sac, called a cyst. The most common location for a TGDC is on a small bone in the neck, called the hyoid.

As the Surgical Oncology review details, a TGDC is the cause of more than 70% of the masses found in the front of children's necks. This condition most commonly occurs in children under the age of 5, but one-third of the time, it's found in people over the age of 20. These masses can affect individuals of any age and can possibly be cancerous.

Symptoms and Signs of a TGDC

This type of cyst appears as a small, single mass that is soft and round, as the Columbia University Department of Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery explains. Some of the symptoms of a thyroglossal duct cyst include tenderness, redness and swelling of the lump when it is infected. Difficult swallowing or breathing may also occur as a result of the swelling. Often, the mass will move upward when the person sticks their tongue out or tries to swallow.

Diagnosis and Treatment

According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, an ear, nose and throat specialist is the type of doctor who treats a thyroglossal duct cyst. Your child's doctor can confirm the presence of this condition with an ultrasound or computed tomography scan. Sometimes, they may use blood tests to check the functioning of the thyroid gland, and they may also use a fine needle to extract cells from the cyst for examination.

As the APSA explains, antibiotics are commonly used to control any infection. Sometimes, a pediatric surgeon may need to surgically remove the cyst. During the surgery, which is referred to as the Sistrunk procedure, the surgeon will create an incision over the cyst to remove it. They may also need to remove a portion of the hyoid bone to reduce the chances that the condition will recur. Most children heal well after one night in the hospital.

If you notice a lump in your child's neck, it's a good idea to get it examined by your pediatrician. They will advise you on a diagnosis and any next steps for treatment.

Oral Care Center articles are reviewed by an oral health medical professional. This information is for educational purposes only. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist, physician or other qualified healthcare provider. 

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