Tracheoesophageal Fistula Symptoms & Causes

What are the Symptoms of Tracheoesophageal Fistula?

Babies who have TEF by itself (without esophageal atresia) often don’t show any symptoms at birth. Symptoms that eventually emerge include:

  • Coughing while feeding
  • Frequent lung infections

If your child has both TEF and EA, the symptoms are usually obvious right after birth. The most common signs of combined TEF/EA are:

  • Breathing problems
  • Coughing or choking trying to swallow

Babies with TEF/EA may have other problems that are linked to the conditions. Learn more about the conditions we treat.

What Causes Tracheoesophageal Fistula?

As a fetus is growing and developing in the mother's uterus before birth, the trachea and the esophagus begin developing as one single tube. At about four to eight weeks after conception, a wall forms between the fetus' esophagus and trachea to separate them into two distinct tubes. If this wall does not form properly, a range of anomalies, such as TEF, can occur.

After repair of a primary TEF, there is a chance the TEF will return (recurrent TEF). Sometimes the cause is an infection during surgery that damages the trachea. Once a TEF recurs, the increased esophageal pressure forces fluids into the airway during swallowing. Eventually the TEF becomes lined with mucosa and becomes permanent. 

Make an Appointment

To make an appointment or speak with a member of our team, please call 617-355-3038.

International Patients

For families residing outside of the United States, please call Boston Children's International Health Services at +01-617-355-5209.