Large projecting ventral cervical osteophytes are associated with senile degenerative skeletal disease, post-traumatic osteophytogenesis, and diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis (DISH). The vast majority of patients with cervical osteophytes are asymptomatic. However, in a small subset this condition may lead to upper aerodigestive compromise manifesting as dysphagia and/or airway obstruction. Conservative medical therapy is usually sufficient, but patients with intractable disease may require surgical intervention, including tracheostomy, feeding tube placement, or osteophytectomy. A retrospective chart review was performed on all patients who presented to a tertiary referral center over a decade (1998-2008) with complaints of dysphagia and/or respiratory compromise and underwent osteophytectomy for treatment of recalcitrant symptoms. A total of nine patients met criteria. Six patients were diagnosed with DISH, two with trauma-associated osteophytogenesis, and one with senile degenerative vertebral disease. The mean age was 68 years and included seven males and two females. All patients had symptoms of dysphagia and two had simultaneous airway complaints. All patients underwent an anterolateral approach for osteophyte decompression, one of which required concurrent tracheostomy. Following surgery, 100% of patients had significant improvement in dysphagia and respiratory complaints. Eight of nine patients returned to an unrestricted diet and only one required postoperative abstinence from bulky foods; both patients with additional airway complaints were successfully decannulated after surgery. Degenerative conditions and DISH may lead to osteophyte-associated dysphagia and/or airway complaints. Surgical decompression through osteophytectomy is an effective alternative to tracheostomy and feeding tube in carefully selected patients and should be considered for surgically fit patients who fail conservative medical management.
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