Pediatric aspiration chest xray

March 2, 2013

Chest XR, Non-Trauma, Respiratory, XR

This a chest xray one of my colleagues sent me.  He is a 21 month old male who possibly aspirated part of an apple:

Aspiration 1

The interesting portion of this radiograph is the overall hyperinflation of the right lung when compared to the left.  With this clinical history, asymmetric hyperinflation is highly concerning for aspirated foreign body.  The foreign body acts as a “ball-valve,” trapping air on exhalation and therefore causing a hyperinflated lung.  It can, but often doesn’t lead to pneumothorax. 

In this case the asymmetry was visible on upright radiograph and the diagnosis of retained foreign body was made.  The child had a bronchoscopy and an apple fragment was pulled out of his right mainstem bronchus. 

Other imaging tricks in aspiration include decubitus films and expiratory films. 

1.  Expiratory films:  have the patient expire and take a plain upright radiograph.  This may accentuate the asymmetry if the ball-valve effect is causing air trapping.

2.  Decubitus films:  When laying on one’s side the dependent lung should be asymmetrically smaller than the opposing lung.  If one of the lungs stays symmetric while in the dependent position, this can be a sign of air trapping.  It is recommended to obtain films in both decubitus positions (left and right).

Also consider CT imaging as a final imaging modality.  However, the definitive study is bronchoscopy if your suspicion is high. 

Author:  Russell Jones, MD

Image Contributor:  Kendra Grether-Jones, MD


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