Case Reports

Failure to thrive in a 6-day-old neonate • intermittent retractions with inspiratory stridor • Dx?

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► Failure to thrive
► Trouble feeding
► Intermittent retractions with inspiratory stridor




A primiparous mother gave birth to a girl at 38 and 4/7 weeks via uncomplicated vaginal delivery. Prenatal labs were normal. Neonatal physical examination was normal and the child’s birth weight was in the 33rd percentile. APGAR scores were 8 and 9. The neonate was afebrile during hospitalization, with a heart rate of 120 to 150 beats/min and a respiratory rate of 30 to 48 breaths/min. Her preductal and postductal oxygen saturations were 100% and 98%, respectively. She was discharged on Day 2 of life, having lost only 3% of her birth weight.

The patient was seen in clinic on Day 6 of life for a well-child exam and was in the 17th percentile for weight. At another visit for a well-child exam on Day 14 of life, she had not fully regained her birth weight. At both visits, the mother reported no issues with breastfeeding and said she was supplementing with formula. The patient was seen again for follow-up on Days 16 and 21 of life and demonstrated no weight gain despite close follow-up with the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), which determined the newborn had some breastfeeding issues but seemed to be consuming adequate calories. However, WIC assessments revealed that during feeding, the child was expending too many calories and had nasal congestion. The patient was admitted to the hospital on Day 21 of life with a diagnosis of failure to thrive (FTT), at which point she was in the 12th percentile for weight.


Shortly after the infant was admitted, she showed signs of respiratory distress. On physical examination, the on-call resident noted intermittent retractions with inspiratory stridor, and the patient demonstrated intermittent severe oxygen desaturations into the 70s. She also was sucking her pacifier furiously, which appeared to provide some relief from the respiratory distress. The child’s parents noted that she had demonstrated intermittent periods of respiratory distress since shortly after birth that seemed to be increasing in frequency.

Upon careful examination, the on-call resident identified a cystic lesion at the base of the child’s tongue. The otolaryngologist on call was brought in for an urgent consultation but was unable to visualize the lesion on physical examination and did not recommend further intervention at that time. The patient continued to demonstrate respiratory distress with hypoxia and was transferred to the pediatric intensive care unit for close monitoring.

The next morning a second otolaryngology consultation was requested. A computed tomography scan of the neck demonstrated a 1.5-cm cystic-appearing mass at the base of the tongue that was obstructing the patient’s airway. Direct flexible bronchoscopy confirmed the radiographic findings. The patient underwent immediate surgical resection of the lesion using a laser. A clear and milky gray cystic fluid exuded from the cyst when the lesion was pierced. The otolaryngologist visualized a widely patent airway following excision of the lesion (FIGURE).

Surgical resection of the base-of-tongue cyst

Pathology results revealed no evidence of malignancy. The final diagnosis was a simple base-of-tongue cyst.


Failure to thrive is common in neonates and occurs most often due to inadequate caloric intake; however, it also can be caused by systemic disease associated with inadequate gastrointestinal absorption or increased caloric expenditure, such as congenital heart disease, renal disease (eg, renal tubular acidosis), chronic pulmonary disease (eg, cystic fibrosis), laryngomalacia, malignancy, immunodeficiency, or thyroid disease.1

Continue to: Respiratory distress


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