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Laryngomalacia: a classification system and surgical treatment strategy.


Laryngomalacia, the most common congenital laryngeal laryngeal /lar·yn·ge·al/ (lah-rin´je-al) pertaining to the larynx.

la·ryn·geal or la·ryn·gal
Of, relating to, affecting, or near the larynx.
 anomaly, is not a single disease entity but rather a variety of entities along a spectrum of underlying pathophysiologies. Based on our study of 10 children who were surgically treated for laryngomalacia in an urban tertiary care center tertiary care center Hospital care A hospital or medical center for Pts often referred from secondary care centers, which provides subspecialty expertise

Tertiary care center  

, we have developed a system of classifying laryngomalacia on the basis of its different underlying pathophysiologic processes. Type 1 laryngomalacia is characterized by a foreshortened or tight aryepiglottic fold ar·y·ep·i·glot·tic fold
A prominent fold of mucous membrane stretching between the lateral margin of the epiglottis and the arytenoid cartilage on either side to enclose the aryepiglottic muscle.
. Type 2 disease is defined by the presence of redundant soft tissue in the supraglottis. The type 3 designation applies to cases caused by other etiologies, such as underlying neuromuscular disorders. While the three types are not mutually exclusive, each should be considered as a separate disease entity with a final common clinical presentation. Each type requires a specific approach to surgical repair.


Laryngomalacia is the most common cause of neonatal stridor Stridor Definition

Stridor is a term used to describe noisy breathing in general, and to refer specifically to a high-pitched crowing sound associated with croup, respiratory infection, and airway obstruction.
, accounting for one-half to two-thirds of all cases of noisy breathing noisy breathing Pulmonary medicine Breathing in which there are random fluctuations in rhythm. See Ataxic breathing.  in this age group. (1) Laryngomalacia usually becomes symptomatic during the first 2 weeks of life, (2) and it usually resolves by the time a child is 12 to 18 months old. (1) Only 10% of cases require surgical intervention, generally to treat apnea or failure to thrive Failure to Thrive Definition

Failure to thrive (FTT) is used to describe a delay in a child's growth or development. It is usually applied to infants and children up to two years of age who do not gain or maintain weight as they should.
. (1) The underlying defect that causes laryngomalacia remains unknown, but it is believed to involve neuromuscular weakness, cartilaginous cartilaginous /car·ti·lag·i·nous/ (kahr?ti-laj´i-nus) consisting of or of the nature of cartilage.

1. Chondral.

 inadequacy, or an anatomic abnormality such as redundant arytenoid arytenoid /ar·y·te·noid/ (ar?i-te´noid) shaped like a jug or pitcher, as arytenoid cartilage.


Various classification schemes for laryngomalacia have been proposed, and assorted treatment modalities and surgical procedures have been described. However, few authors have attempted to mesh the classifications and their treatments to develop a treatment algorithm. In this article, we describe our efforts to tailor the surgical procedure according to the specific type of laryngomalacia.

Patients and methods

We established a hypothesis that the surgical treatment of laryngomalacia specifically directed at the underlying etiology would be effective and sufficient. To test our theory, we developed a classification system for laryngomalacia based on its underlying etiology (figure), and then we determined the most appropriate surgical procedure for each diagnosis.

Type 1 laryngomalacia is characterized by a foreshortened or tight aryepiglottic fold, and we treated it by dividing the folds with scissors scissors

Cutting instrument or tool consisting of a pair of opposed metal blades that meet and cut when the handles at their ends are brought together. Modern scissors are of two types: the more usual pivoted blades have a rivet or screw connection between the cutting ends
. Type 2 disease is defined by the presence of redundant soft tissue in the supraglottis, and it was treated by resecting the redundant mucosa with sharp instruments. The type 3 designation applies to cases caused by other etiologies, such as underlying neuromuscular disorders and posterior epiglottic epiglottic

pertaining to or emanating from the epiglottis.

epiglottic cartilage
attached to the thyroid cartilage of the larynx by the thyroepiglottic ligament; it is the structural basis of the epiglottis.
 collapse; it was treated with a tracheostomy.

We studied our hypothesis in 10 patients--8 boys and 2 girls aged 3 months to 3 years (median: 6 mo).


Two of the 10 patients had been born prematurely with bronchopulmonary dysplasia bronchopulmonary dysplasia
A chronic pulmonary insufficiency resulting from long-term artificial pulmonary ventilation, more common in premature infants than in mature infants.
 and gastroesophageal reflux gastroesophageal reflux
A backflow of the contents of the stomach into the esophagus, caused by relaxation of the lower esophageal sphincter. Also called esophageal reflux, gastric reflux.
 (table). The most common reason for surgical intervention was respiratory distress Respiratory distress
A condition in which patients with lung disease are not able to get enough oxygen.

Mentioned in: Lung Cancer, Non-Small Cell
 (n = 8), defined as worsening stridor and retraction beyond what is normally seen in laryngomalacia. Six patients experienced failure to thrive, 3 had apnea, and 2 had cyanosis cyanosis (sī'ənō`sĭs), bluish coloration of the skin, mucous membranes, and nailbeds, resulting from a lack of oxygenated hemoglobin in the blood. .

Five patients had isolated type 1 laryngomalacia, 3 had isolated type 2 laryngomalacia, 1 patient had a combination of types 1 and 2, and 1 patient had a combination of types 1 and 3. No patient had isolated type 3 laryngomalacia. Other findings noted at the time of direct laryngoscopy Laryngoscopy Definition

Laryngoscopy refers to a procedure used to view the inside of the larynx (the voice box).
 and bronchoscopy Bronchoscopy Definition

Bronchoscopy is a procedure in which a cylindrical fiberoptic scope is inserted into the airways. This scope contains a viewing device that allows the visual examination of the lower airways.
 included posterior laryngeal edema edema (ĭdē`mə), abnormal accumulation of fluid in the body tissues or in the body cavities causing swelling or distention of the affected parts.  in 4 patients and subglottic stenosis in 2 patients.

Supraglottoplasty was performed on 9 patients; 6 patients underwent an aryepiglottic fold division, and 4 underwent an arytenoid mucosal resection (1 patient underwent both procedures). Tracheostomy was performed on 2 patients. once as a primary procedure and once following the failed resection of bilateral arytenoid redundant mucosa.


The three types of laryngomalacia we describe do not represent a novel classification system. In fact, our classifications reflect the three abnormalities that McSwiney et al in 1977 noted could be present, either separately or in combination. (3) They wrote that (1) the epiglottis epiglottis (ĕp'əglŏt`ĭs): see larynx.  could be long and curled upon itself and prolapse prolapse

Protrusion of an internal organ out of its normal place, usually of the rectum or uterus outside the body when supporting muscles weaken. The membrane lining the rectum can push out through the anus, most often in old people with constipation who strain during
 posteriorly on inspiration, (2) the aryepiglottic folds could be too short, and (3) the arytenoids could be more bulky than normal and prolapse forward on inspiration. They also noted a high incidence of laryngomalacia among children with cerebral palsy cerebral palsy (sərē`brəl pôl`zē), disability caused by brain damage before or during birth or in the first years, resulting in a loss of voluntary muscular control and coordination.  and mental retardation mental retardation, below average level of intellectual functioning, usually defined by an IQ of below 70 to 75, combined with limitations in the skills necessary for daily living. , although they did not specify the particular type of hiryngomalacia in these particular patients. In our experience, patients with neurodevelopmental disorders generally have a posterior prolapsed pro·lapse   Medicine
intr.v. pro·lapsed, pro·laps·ing, pro·laps·es
To fall or slip out of place.

n. prolapse also pro·lap·sus
 epiglottis; when surgical intervention is required in such cases, tracheostomy rather than supraglottoplasty is the procedure of choice.

Other authors have advocated different approaches to the surgical treatment of laryngomalacia. In a series of 40 surgical cases of laryngomalacia. Prescott advised surgeons to focus on three supraglouic elements during the physical examination: the epiglottis, the aryepiglottic folds, and the mucosa over the corniculate cartilages on the arytenoids. (4) He found an omega-shaped epiglottis in 27 patients (67.5%), with epiglottal prolapse into the laryngeal inlet in 13 patients (32.5%). All patients had a short aryepiglottic fold and edematous e·dem·a·tous
Marked by edema.
 mucosa over the corniculate cartilages that prolapsed anteriorly. Prescott advocated excision of a V wedge from the center of the aryepiglottic folds as the surgical procedure of choice. He reported resecting the mucosa over the corniculate cartilages only ii it was edematous, and in fact he did perform this procedure on every one of the patients he described in that study. He excised the lateral margins of an omega-shaped epiglottis in 32 patients (80.0%) and noted that no patient had persistent epiglottic prolapse requiring epiglottoplasty.

Nussbaum and Maggi defined two types of laryngomahlcia based on criteria important to pulmonologists. (5) The first type is isolated laryngomalacia as defined by McSwiney et al, (3) who noted that this entity is usually detected in early infancy. The second type is laryngomalacia associated with any other bronchoscopic bron·cho·scope  
A slender tubular instrument with a small light on the end for inspection of the interior of the bronchi.

 findings, including gastro-esophageal reflux.

In describing a series of 115 patients, Roger et al distinguished three types of laryngomalacia: complete, predominantly posterior, and isolated anterior. (6) The complete type, which was seen in two-thirds of their patients, was characterized by an omega-shaped epiglottis, shortened aryepiglotlic folds, and redundant supraglottic mucosa that may or may not involve the mucosa of the cuneiform cartilages. Most of the other patients had the predominantly posterior type with redundant arytenoid mucosa. Only 2 patients had isolated anterior laryngomalacia with posterior swaying of the epiglottis.

Shah and Wetmore, in designing a reporting form for laryngomalacia, separated the disorder into three types based on the principal site of anatomic collapse. (7) In their series of 10 patients, 4 had posterolateral laryngomalacia with redundant aryepiglottic folds, and 6 had only posterior laryngomalacia with excess arytenoid mucosal or cartilaginous bulk; no patient had anterior laryngomalacia involving the epiglottis. Two of their patients required supraglottoplasty; the laryngomalacia type and surgical technique in these 2 cases were not specified.

Another classification system--in which laryngomalacia is designated as type A, B, or C--is cited in the Taiwanese literature. (8,9) In type A disease, the cuneiform cartilages are redundant and they prolapse during inspiration. In type B laryngomalacia, a long tubular epiglottis curls back upon itself during inspiration. In type C, the flaccid flaccid /flac·cid/ (flak´sid) (flas´id)
1. weak, lax, and soft.

2. atonic.

Lacking firmness, resilience, or muscle tone.
 epiglottis prolapses posteriorly against the posterior pharyngeal pharyngeal /pha·ryn·ge·al/ (fah-rin´je-al) pertaining to the pharynx.

pha·ryn·geal or pha·ryn·gal
Of, relating to, located in, or coming from the pharynx.
 wall or vocal folds during inspiration.

Nielson et al developed an empiric scale of 0 to 8 for rating laryngomalacia. (10) The arytenoids and the epiglottis are graded separately on a scale of 0 to 4 points, and the grades are added together. The arytenoids may show no collapse (0), subtle collapse (1), collapse that obscures 25 to 50% of the true vocal folds (2), collapse that obscures 75% of the true vocal folds (3), or collapse that obscures 100% of the true vocal folds (4). The epiglottis may show no folding (0), slight lengthwise length·wise  
adv. & adj.
Of, along, or in reference to the direction of the length; longitudinally.

Adj. 1. lengthwise
 folding (1), moderate folding without contact of the lateral edges of the epiglottis (2), folding with intermittent contact of the lateral edges (3), or folding with continuous contact with or overlap of the lateral edges (4). This scale provides a potential measure of clinical severity that can complement other systems that classify specific anatomic locations such as the aryepiglottic folds.

In a comprehensive review of laryngomalacia published in 1999, Olney et al classified both surgical and nonsurgical cases into three types. (1) Type 1 laryngomalacia was characterized by prolapse of the mucosa overlying overlying

suffocation of piglets by the sow. The piglets may be weak from illness or malnutrition, the sow may be clumsy or ill, the pen may be inadequate in size or poorly designed so that piglets cannot escape.
 the arytenoid cartilages, type 2 involved foreshortened aryepiglottic folds, and type 3 involved posterior displacement of the epiglottis. Types 1,2, and 3 laryngomalacia were identified in 57, 15, and 13% of their patients, respectively; another 15% had a combination of types, usually types 1 and 2. Our system is similar to theirs, which they established midway through their study about the same time that we created our system. Just as we did, Olney et al used their classification system to direct the type of supraglottoplasty they performed. Type 1 patients underwent excision of the redundant mucosa over the posterolateral arytenoids, type 2 patients underwent division of the aryepiglottic folds, and type 3 patients underwent an epiglottopexy to the base of the tongue. The surgical success rate was 78%. In our series and in the series by Olney et al, (1) all surgical patients who had posterior epiglottic prolapse (type 3) ultimately required a tracheostomy to secure the airway. Also in our series, both of the patients with bronchopulmonary dysplasia required a tracheostomy.

The development of our classification system was motivated by our belief that different anatomic etiologies of laryngomalacia should be treated with different surgical procedures. In many previous reports, authors advocated that all surgical laryngomalacia be treated the same way, regardless of etiology. We believe that such a strategy carries the potential for unnecessary interventions.

Some authors advocate dividing only the aryepiglottic folds, be it with sharp instrumentation or with a laser. (11) In a series of 115 patients, Garabedian et al reported a 98% success rate, with 7 patients requiring additional procedures and 2 failures requiring tracheostomy. (12) On the other hand, some authors advocate resecting only the redundant mucosa. For example, Polonovski et al designed a suction test that involved placing an aspiration cannula cannula /can·nu·la/ (kan´u-lah) a tube for insertion into a vessel, duct, or cavity; during insertion its lumen is usually occupied by a trocar.

can·nu·la or can·u·la
n. pl.
 into the laryngeal inlet to assess the amount of supraglottic collapse and to ascertain how much and which tissue to resect resect /re·sect/ (-sekt´) to excise part or all of an organ or other structure.

To perform a resection on a part of the body.
. (13) While they frequently resected mucosa from the aryepiglottic fold and occasionally from the lateral edge of the epiglottis, they did not divide the aryepiglottic fold, claiming that two-thirds of patients who undergo such division eventually require a revision procedure. Still other authors advocate both division of the aryepiglottic folds and resection of the arytenoid mucosa regardless of the anatomic site responsible for the laryngomalacia. Zalzal et al described using scissors to trim the aryepiglottic folds, lateral edges of the epiglottis, and the mucosa over the arytenoids and corniculate cartilages. (14) Similarly, Marcus et al reported using scissors to trim the obstructing mucosa from the lateral edge of the epiglottis, aryepiglottic folds, and arytenoid cartilage in all patients, even though they saw two distinct patterns of laryngomalacia in their patients; half exhibited anteromedial collapse of aryepiglottic folds and cuneiform cartilage cuneiform cartilage
A small nonarticulating rod of elastic cartilage in the aryepiglottic fold above the corniculate cartilage.
, while the other half manifested only anteromedial collapse of the mucosa overlying the arytenoids. (15)

Jani et al (16) performed a suction test similar to the one described by Polonovski et al (13) to assess how much redundant arytenoid mucosa to resect, but unlike Polonovski et al, they always excised the aryepiglottic fold. Roger et al began by sectioning only the aryepiglottic folds, but they later also resected the redundant arytenoid mucosa, occasionally with the corniculate cartilage corniculate cartilage
A conical nodule of elastic cartilage surmounting the apex of each arytenoid cartilage.
; of 115 cases, 4 required an epiglottopexy for significant epiglottic swaying. (6) Finally, Kelly and Gray used the laser to vaporize va·por·ize
To convert or be converted into a vapor.

To dissolve solid material or convert it into smoke or gas.
 the cuneiform cartilage and an adjacent wedge of the aryepiglottic fold, but they did so only unilaterally; only 17% of their patients required the same contralateral contralateral /con·tra·lat·er·al/ (-lat´er-al) pertaining to, situated on, or affecting the opposite side.

 procedure in 2 to 3 months. (17)

We have taken an approach that is similar to Kelly and Gray's by performing supraglottic redundant mucosa resections unilaterally. In only 1 of our patients did we find that a bilateral resection was required, and even this proved to be insufficient as the patient ultimately required a tracheostomy. It is important to note that this patient was 1 of the 2 patients who had been born prematurely with bronchopulmonary dysplasia; supraglottoplasty was successful in all 8 of our full-term infants.

There are authors who advocate tailoring the supraglottoplasty to the structural etiology of the laryngomalacia without relying on a classification system. Zeitouni and Manoukian insert a rigid suction into the supraglottis, assess the excess redundant portions, and ablate ab·late
To remove or destroy the function of.


to remove, especially by cutting.

ablate verb To remove; excise
 them with a C[O.sub.2] laser; the treated areas "usually include the aryepiglottic folds, lateral edges of the epiglottis and the corniculate cartilages." (2) Occasionally, they need to resect only the mucosa over the arytenoids. They also excise a wedge out of the aryepiglottic folds if they are too short, and they write that they have never needed to perform an epiglottopexy. Remacle et al always resect the aryepiglottic fold from the arytenoids to the lateral edge of the epiglottis; if necessary, surgery includes the endolaryngeal mucosa of the arytenoids and/or the lateral edge of the epiglottis. (18)

In conclusion, it is possible, of course, to perform selected procedures in accordance with an algorithm that does not involve a classification system. However, we find that a classification system focuses the surgeon's attention preoperatively and intraoperatively to the particular offending anatomy, thereby avoiding the use of a shotgun surgical approach.


(1.) Olney DR, Greinwald JH Jr., Smith RJ, Bauman NM. Laryngomalacia and its treatment. Laryngoscope la·ryn·go·scope
A tubular endoscope that is inserted through the mouth and into the larynx and that is used for examining the interior of the larynx.

 1999; 109:1770-5.

(2.) Zeitouni A, Manoukian J. Epiglottoplasty in the treatment of laryngomalacia. J Otolaryngol 1993;22:29-33.

(3.) McSwiney PF, Cavanagh NR Languth P. Outcome in congenital stridor congenital stridor
Stridor occurring at birth or within the first few months of life. It may be due to abnormal flaccidity of the epiglottis or arytenoids.
 (laryngomalacia). Arch Dis Child 1977;52:215-18.

(4.) Prescott CA. The current status of corrective surgery for laryngomalacia. Am J Otolaryngol 1991; 12:230-5.

(5.) Nussbaum E, Maggi JC. Laryngomalacia in children. Chest 1990;98:942-4.

(6.) Roger G, Denoyelle F, Triglia JM, Garabedian EN. Severe laryngomalacia: Surgical indications and results in 115 patients. Laryngoscope 1995; 105:1111-17.

(7.) Shah UK, Wetmore RF. Laryngomalcia: A proposed classification form. Int J Pediatr Otorhinolaryngol 1998;46:21-6.

(8.) Liu HC, Lee KS, Hsu CH, Hung HY. Neonatal vallecular cyst cyst, abnormal sac in the body, filled with a fluid or semisolid and enclosed in a membrane. Cysts can be congenital but are usually acquired, the most common locations being the skin and the ovaries. : Report of eleven cases. Changgeng Yi Xue Za Zhi 1999;22:615-20.

(9.) Lee KS, Chen HL, Yang CC, et al. Surgical management of severe laryngomalacia. J Taiwan Otolaryngol Soc 1997;32:235-40.

(10.) Nielson DW, Ku PL, Egger M. Topical lidocaine lidocaine /li·do·caine/ (li´do-kan) an anesthetic with sedative, analgesic, and cardiac depressant properties, applied topically in the form of the base or hydrochloride salt as a local anesthetic; also used in the latter form as a  exaggerates laryngomalacia during flexible bronchoscopy flexible bronchoscopy Pulmonology Examination of the airways using a flexible bronchoscope, often performed at the bedside of critically ill Pts who may be too unstable to move to the OR or bronchoscopy suite; FB is used to visualize distal airways; generally, . Am J Respir Crit Care Med 2000;161 : 147-51.

(11.) Seid AB, Park SM, Kearns MJ, Gugenheim S. Laser division of the aryepiglottic folds for severe laryngomalacia. Int J Pediatr Otorhinolaryngol 1985;10:153-8.

(12.) Garabedian EN, Roger G, Denoyelle F, Triglia JM. Severe laryngomalacia: Surgical indications and results. Pediatr Pulmonol Suppl 1997;16:292.

(13.) Polonovski JM, Contencin R Francois M, et al. Aryepiglottic fold excision for the treatment of severe laryngomalacia. Ann Otol Rhinol Laryngol 1990;99:625-7.

(14.) Zalzal GH, Anon JB, Cotton RT. Epiglottoplasty for the treatment of laryngomalacia. Ann Otol Rhinol Laryngol 1987;96:72-6.

(15.) Marcus CL, Crockett DM, Ward SL. Evaluation of epiglottoplasty as treatment for severe laryngomalacia. J Pediatr 1990; 117:706-10.

(16.) Jani P, Koltai P, Ochi JW, Bailey CM. Surgical treatment of laryngomalacia. J Laryngol Otol 1991; 105:1040-5.

(17.) Kelly SM, Gray SD. Unilateral endoscopic en·do·scope  
An instrument for examining visually the interior of a bodily canal or a hollow organ such as the colon, bladder, or stomach.

 supraglottoplasty for severe laryngomalacia. Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg 1995:121:1351-4.

(18.) Remacle M, Bodart E, Lawson G, et al. Use of the CO2-laser micropoint micromanipulator micromanipulator /mi·cro·ma·nip·u·la·tor/ (-mah-nip´u-la-ter) an instrument for the moving, dissecting, etc., of minute specimens under the microscope.


an instrument for the moving, dissecting, etc.
 for the treatment of laryngomalacia. Eur Arch Otorhinolaryngol 1996;253:401-4.

David J. Kay, MD, MPH; Ari J. Goldsmith, MD

From the Center for Pediatric pediatric /pe·di·at·ric/ (pe?de-at´rik) pertaining to the health of children.

Of or relating to pediatrics.
 Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, Boynton Beach, Fla. (Dr. Kay), and the Department of Otolaryngology, SUNY SUNY - State University of New York  Health Science Center at Brooklyn (N.Y.) (Dr. Goldsmith).

Reprint requests: David J. Kay, MD, Center for Pediatric Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery, 10301 Hagen Ranch Rd., Boynton Beach, FL 33437. Phone: (561) 881-5236; fax: (561) 736-5662; e-mail:

Originally presented in part at the annual meeting of the American Broncho-Esophagological Association; May 14, 2001; Palm Desert, Calif.
Table. Patient data

            Birth      Medical     Surgical
Age/sex    history     history     indication

3 mo/M     Normal                  FTT

8 mo/M     Normal        GER       FTT, respiratory distress

3 yr/M     Normal     Hypotonia    Respiratory distress

5 mo/M     Normal                  FTT

4 mo/M     Normal                  Respiratory distress

7 mo/M     Normal                  FTT, respiratory distress,

7 mo/M     Normal                  Respiratory distress

4 mo/F     Normal                  Respiratory distress,

4 mo/M    Premature    BPD, GER    FTT, respiratory distress,

3 yr/F    Premature   MRCP, BPD,   FTT, respiratory distress,
                         GER       cyanosis, apnea

             LM         Other
Age/sex     type       findings    Procedure

3 mo/M        1                    Resection of
                                   bilateral AE folds

8 mo/M        1                    Resection of
                                   bilateral AE folds

3 yr/M        1                    Resection of
                                   bilateral AE folds

5 mo/M        1                    Resection of
                                   bilateral AE folds

4 mo/M        1           SS       Resection of
                                   bilateral AE folds

7 mo/M      1, 2         PLE       Resection of
                                   bilateral AE folds,
                                   resection of unilateral
                                   redundant mucosa

7 mo/M        2           SS       Resection of unilateral
                                   redundant mucosa

4 mo/F        2          PLE       Resection of unilateral
                                   redundant mucosa

4 mo/M        2          PLE       Initial: resection
                                   of bilateral redundant
                                   mucosa; later: tracheostomy

3 yr/F      1, 3         PLE       Tracheostomy

LM = laryngomalacia; FTT = failure to thrive; AE = aryepiglottic;
GER = gastroesophageal reflux; SS = subglottic stenosis; PLE =
posterior glottic edema; BPD = bronchopulmonary dysplasia; MRCP
= mental retardation and cerebral palsy.
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Chee Yean Eng (Member): Olney classification... 3/14/2010 4:00 PM
Are you sure about the Olney classification?
The Type I and Type II could have been mixed up?


 Reader Opinion




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Author:Goldsmith, Ari J.
Publication:Ear, Nose and Throat Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2006
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