Esophageal Dilation in Children

Esophageal dilation is used to help treat children who have problems swallowing because of a narrowing in their esophagus.

Remarkable care for kids

  • Family-centered care: As part of Rush University Children’s Hospital, clinicians at the clinic are dedicated to family-centered care. They believe your family should play an integral role in determining the best care plan to address your child’s unique needs and lifestyle.
  • Care close to home: Pediatric gastroenterologists at Rush University Children’s Hospital are available to see patients at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Rush Oak Park Hospital in Oak Park and Rush Copley Medical Center in Aurora.
  • Innovative approaches: The interventional platform at Rush houses the latest imaging technology for minimally invasive procedures as well as space that allows for a collaborative approach to performing esophageal dilation.

What is esophageal dilation?

Some children have problems swallowing because of a narrowing in their esophagus. It can feel as though food is stuck in their throat. This narrowing, or stricture, occurs for several reasons, including the following:

To treat this problem, a pediatric surgeon or pediatric gastroenterologist will stretch the esophagus by performing a brief procedure called esophageal dilation. After the surgery, your child’s symptoms should lessen and they should experience the following:

  • Easier time swallowing and eating, so they can get important nutrition
  • Less discomfort in the throat and chest

Does my child need esophageal dilation?

Your child’s pediatrician will work with a pediatric gastroenterologist to determine if your child needs esophageal dilation. If this procedure would help your child, they will then determine how to perform it because there are several ways to stretch your child’s esophagus. Your child’s care team will determine the best approach based on the following:

  • The cause the narrowing
  • The size and shape of the narrowing (e.g., is it short or is it straight?)

Types of esophageal dilation procedures

To perform esophageal dilation, the pediatric perioperative team at Rush will work with your child’s care providers to put your child under general anesthesia. Your child may require this procedure again later in life if narrowing — and the related symptoms — recur. In many cases, your child can return home the same day as the procedure. This, however, depends on your child’s condition and how they feel after the procedure.

A narrow tube with a tiny light and camera called an endoscope helps doctors at Rush University Children’s Hospital to see inside your child’s esophagus. In some cases, your child’s doctor may use an imaging method called fluoroscopy, which helps guide doctors as they insert tiny instruments into your child’s esophagus to widen it.
Depending on your child’s condition, doctors then insert one of following tools into your child’s esophagus:

  • Bougies: Cone-shaped tubes that work best on short, straight and not-so narrow strictures. Doctors start by inserting a small cone and gradually inserting larger ones to widen the stricture. When the desired widening occurs, doctors remove the cones.
  • Balloon dilators: Balloons that doctors insert using an endoscope and slowly fill with air to widen the stricture. When the stricture is widened, doctors then release the air and remove the balloon.

After the procedure

After the procedure, your child will go to a recovery area. Here, doctors and nurses will observe your child closely as the effects of anesthesia wear off.  During this time, you can expect the following:

  • Your child may have a sore throat. To ease your child’s discomfort, your health care team can provide pain medications, if needed.
  • Your health care team will advise you on when your child can resume eating and drinking. In many cases, children can drink fluids once the throat no longer feels numb and they can eat solids the following day.
  • While many children go home the same day as the procedure, your child’s care team may decide your child requires additional hospital time to help them recover. They base this decision on the unique needs of your child.
  • Your child’s care team will provide the information you need to schedule a follow-up visit with your child’s clinician to monitor your child’s progress.