Tracheoesophageal fistula (TEF) refers to a condition where the trachea (commonly known as the windpipe) is abnormally connected to the oesophagus (tube that connects the mouth to the stomach). There may be one or more abnormal connections. This is a problem because when the infant who has TEF swallows, liquid can pass through to the windpipe and into the lungs.
TEF often occurs together with another condition called oesophageal atresia (OA). This is a condition where the oesophagus is not formed properly, resulting in a gap between the tube coming down from the mouth and the tube going up form the stomach. Even so, TEF can still occur on its own. TEF affects about 1 in 4000 newborns, a third of which are born premature.
Symptoms of TEF
Infants born with TEF may not display any symptoms at birth, especially if they do not have OA as well. The condition only becomes apparent when the infant continually experiences coughing while feeding, swelling in the abdomen and frequent lung infections.
Causes of TEF
TEF is a congenital condition (present at birth).
Risks of TEF
Infants with TEF have a higher chance of developing recurring respiratory problems such as pneumonia. Infants who are otherwise healthy and promptly undergo surgery to repair the oesophagus and windpipe have a very high chance of a full recovery.
Dealing with TEF
TEF must be corrected with surgery. The timing of the surgery will depend on the overall health of the baby. During the operation, the surgeon will also insert a gastrostomy tube into the baby’s stomach so that they can be fed while the oesophagus heals. When your baby is discharged from the hospital, you will likely have to continue feeding your child using this tube for several months.
Medical homecare equipment explained:
- Feeding Pumps
This device regulates the amount and flow of nutrition and medicine that goes from the feeding bag into the baby’s feeding tube. Feeding that is done using this device can either be continuous (done over 8-24 hours) or done several times throughout the day (bolus method). Your doctor will advise you on the frequency at which you need to feed your child. Every time you set up the machine for your child, ensure that the supplies are clean, and are handled with clean hands.
This feeding pump can be used with various enteral feeding tubes, which include nasogastric tubes (runs through the nose, through the oesophagus and into the stomach), gastrostomy tubes (runs from the abdominal wall to the stomach, commonly known as g-tubes) and enterostomy tubes (runs from the abdominal wall to the intestines).