The second branchial cleft fistula

John Maddalozzo*, Jeffrey C. Rastatter, Heath F. Dreyfuss, Reema Jaffar, Bharat Bhushan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Objective: To review the surgical anatomy and histopathology of second branchial cleft fistulae. Study design: Retrospective study of patients treated for second branchial cleft fistulae at a tertiary care pediatric hospital. The senior author noted anatomic and histologic features of second branchial cleft fistulae, not previously described. Setting: Tertiary care children's hospital. Patients and methods: Retrospective examination of 28 patients was conducted who were operated upon for second branchial cleft fistula. Data collected included age at surgery, initial presentation, imaging characteristics prior to surgery, laterality of the fistula tract, pathology results and follow-up data. Results: Twenty-eight patients met the criteria for inclusion. Three patients (11%) had bilateral fistulae. 11 (39%) were male and 17 (61%) were female. 23 (74.2%) tracts were lined with ciliated columnar epithelium, 3 (9.7%) had cuboidal epithelium, and 5 (16.7%) had squamous epithelium. Nineteen (61.3%) tracts contained salivary tissue. Of the unilateral fistula tracts, 25 (100%) were on the right side. Of the 3 patients with bilateral lesions, 2 (66%) had associated branchio-oto-renal syndrome (BORS). Conclusions: Second branchial cleft fistulae are rare. They are usually right-sided. If bilateral fistulae are present, one should consider an underlying genetic disorder. The histology of the fistulae mostly demonstrates ciliated columnar epithelium with the majority of specimens showing salivary tissue. There is a clear association with the internal jugular vein (IJV). Dissection should continue until superior to the hyoid bone, ensuring near complete surgical dissection and less risk of recurrence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1042-1045
Number of pages4
JournalInternational journal of pediatric otorhinolaryngology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1 2012


  • Branchial cleft
  • Branchial sinus
  • Congenital cleft
  • Cyst
  • Fistula
  • Second branchial cleft

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Otorhinolaryngology


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