UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Upper airway obstruction due to a change in altitude: first report in fifty years Butskiy, Oleksandr; Anderson, Donald W


Background: Air travel mostly causes minor ear, nose and throat complaints. We describe a second report in literature of airway obstruction caused by a drop in atmospheric pressure during a routine commercial flight. Case presentation: A 54-year-old male was referred to a head and neck surgeon with a 2 cm left submandibular mass that would enlarge during commercial flights. As the plane gained elevation, the mass would grow and cause him to become stridorous and short of breath. The shortness of breath and stridor would only resolve upon landing of the plane. A CT scan showed a large air sac extending from the larynx at the level of the true vocal cords up to the angle of the mandible. Based on the history and the CT findings a diagnosis of a laryngocele was made. The laryngocele was excised using an external approach, resolving the patient’s difficulty with flying. Conclusion: This article reports a rare case of upper airway obstruction caused by atmospheric pressure changes during air travel. The reported case is of significance as only a few uncomplicated laryngoceles have been reported to cause airway distress in the literature. This report highlights the epidemiology, presentation, complication and management of laryngoceles.

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