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Thyroglossal Duct Cyst in Children

What is a thyroglossal duct cyst?

A thyroglossal duct cyst is a pocket in the front part of neck that is filled with fluid. A child is born with this cyst. It is formed from leftover tissue from the development of the thyroid gland when an embryo was forming. The thyroid gland is located in the front of the neck. It is part of the hormone-producing glands called the endocrine system.

Although the cyst is present at birth, it is usually not found until a child is at least age 2. Often a healthcare provider finds a thyroglossal cyst when a child gets an upper respiratory infection.

What causes a thyroglossal duct cyst?

The thyroid gland forms during the early stages in the development of an embryo. It begins at the base of the tongue and moves down the neck through a channel or tube (thyroglossal duct). This duct normally goes away once the thyroid reaches its final position in the neck. Sometimes part of the duct remains. This leaves a pocket called a cyst.

What are the symptoms of a thyroglossal duct cyst?

Symptoms can occur a bit differently in each child. The most common include:

  • A small, soft, round lump in the center front of the neck
  • Tenderness, redness, and swelling of the lump, if infected
  • Difficulty swallowing or breathing

The symptoms of a thyroglossal duct cyst can be like other health conditions. Make sure your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is a thyroglossal duct cyst diagnosed?

A thyroglossal cyst is usually diagnosed when your child’s healthcare provider examines your child. Your child’s healthcare provider will usually recommend that your child see an ear, nose, and throat specialist (ENT). Or the provider may refer you to another healthcare provider with experience in thyroglossal duct cysts. Your child may need tests such as:

  • Blood tests. These tests check the thyroid gland function.
  • Ultrasound exam. Sound waves are used to check the cyst and thyroid gland.
  • CT scan of the neck. X-rays and a computer are used to look at the neck, including the cyst and thyroid gland. Contrast dye is used to get better images. 
  • Fine needle aspiration. A small needle is used to remove cells from the cyst for diagnosis. 

How is a thyroglossal duct cyst treated?

Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.

Your child’s healthcare provider will regularly check your child’s cyst. Treatment may include:

  • Antibiotic medicine
  • Cutting into and draining the cyst, if antibiotic medicine doesn’t get rid of the infection
  • Cutting out the cyst and some nearby tissue (surgical excision)
  • Injecting a substance to remove the cyst, if a child can’t have surgery

What are the complications of a thyroglossal duct cyst?

Complications of a thyroglossal duct cyst may include:

  • Blocking the upper airway
  • Serious or returning infection
  • Presence of cancer cells, but this is uncommon

Key points about a thyroglossal duct cyst

  • A thyroglossal duct cyst is a pocket in the front part of neck that is filled with fluid. A child is born with this cyst.
  • It is formed from leftover tissue from the development of the thyroid gland when an embryo is forming.
  • Although the cyst is present at birth, it is usually not found until a child is at least age 2.
  • A thyroglossal duct cyst is usually diagnosed when your child's healthcare provider examines your child.
  • Treatment may include antibiotic medicine to treat any infection or surgery to remove the cyst.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:
  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
  • At the visit, write down the names of new medicines, treatments, or tests, and any new instructions your provider gives you for your child.
  • If your child has a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
  • Know how you can contact your child’s provider after office hours. This is important if your child becomes ill and you have questions or need advice.
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically-affiliated clinician
Online Medical Reviewer: Turley, Ray, BSN, MSN
Date Last Reviewed: 7/2/2015
© 2000-2015 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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