The "postcricoid cushion": Observations on the vascular anatomy of the posterior cricoid region

Stephen R. Hoff*, Peter J. Koltai

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Objective: To describe the cyclical vascular enlargement that occurs in the postcricoid region during the expiratory phase on an infant's cry, and to consider the anatomic, physiologic, and clinical implications of this phenomenon, which we term the "postcricoid cushion." Design: A total of 125 consecutive office fiber-optic laryngoscopic examinations in children and infants were reviewed for engorgement and vascular discoloration of the postcricoid region. Presence of a postcricoid cushion in relation to patient age was reviewed. A comprehensive literature review was also performed. Setting: Tertiary care pediatric hospital. Patients: Patients from newborns to 17 years old undergoing laryngoscopy for any reason. Results: Sixty-one percent of the videos showed a postcricoid cushion with cyclical enlargement during crying. Eighty-eight percent of children younger than 24 months had presence of a cushion compared with only 38% of children 24 months or older (P<.001). Twenty-five percent of the cushions had violaceous discoloration that resembled a vascular malformation. Conclusions: Anatomic studies have demonstrated a rich venous plexus in the postcricoid region of the larynx. During the expiratory phase of an infant's cry, there is a cyclical engorgement, occasionally with vascular discoloration, in the postcricoid region at the same level of the venous plexus - the "postcricoid cushion." We propose that during crying, with acute elevation in intrathoracic pressure, there is a filling of the plexus, causing apposition of the postcricoid cushion against the posterior pharyngeal wall, which may serve as a protective barrier to emesis in infants. Our observations relate and differentiate this normal physiologic phenomenon from the rare cases of postcricoid vascular anomalies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)562-571
Number of pages10
JournalArchives of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Otorhinolaryngology


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