To distract or not to distract: An algorithm for airway management in isolated Pierre Robin sequence

Richard B. Schaefer*, James A. Stadler, Arun K. Gosain

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

138 Scopus citations


Approaches advocated for treatment of airway obstruction among neonates with Pierre Robin sequence include positioning, tongue-lip adhesion, mandibular distraction, and tracheostomy, with no established guidelines regarding which modality is appropriate for a specific patient. This report proposes an algorithm for the management of neonatal upper airway obstruction among patients with isolated Pierre Robin sequence. Data for 21 patients with isolated Pierre Robin sequence who were treated by one surgeon during a 9-year period were reviewed. Eighteen patients presented during the first 1 week of life and three patients presented late, between 12 and 33 months of age. Follow-up periods ranged from 9 to 70 months (median, 33 months). Successful airway management was achieved with positioning alone for 10 patients, with tongue-lip adhesion for seven of nine patients, with tracheostomy for two patients, and with mandibular distraction for three patients. Changes in the maxillary-mandibular discrepancy were significant with natural mandibular growth during the first 1 year of life (p < 0.0001). Oromotor studies performed 3 months or more after tongue-lip adhesion reversal (n = 9) demonstrated no appreciable deficits in tongue function, relative to other children with cleft lips/palates. A multidisciplinary team should evaluate all patients with isolated Pierre Robin sequence, to fully assess the maxillary-mandibular relationship, anatomically define the site of airway obstruction, and identify feeding difficulties. Patients should be evaluated for episodes of desaturation occurring spontaneously, during feeding, or during sleeping. Patients with desaturation should be further evaluated with double endoscopy (nasoendoscopy and bronchoscopy). If the airway obstruction is localized to the tongue base alone and cannot be controlled with positioning, then tongue-lip adhesion is the initial treatment of choice, because such patients demonstrate significant mandibular growth during the first 1 year of life. Mandibular distraction among neonates is reserved for failures of tongue-lip adhesion in which isolated tongue-base airway obstruction is documented. Neither of the patients who experienced failure of tongue-lip adhesion in this series would have been a candidate for distraction with the algorithm presented. Avoiding routine neonatal distraction serves to avoid facial scarring, nerve and tooth bud injury, and potential disturbances of intrinsic mandibular growth. Patients with persistent respiratory difficulties beyond age 9 months require reevaluation for multiple sites of airway obstruction. Mandibular distraction may be one of several modalities required to avoid tracheostomy for such patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1113-1125
Number of pages13
JournalPlastic and reconstructive surgery
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2004

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery

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