Choanal atresia is a narrowing or blockage of the nasal airway by tissue. It is a life threatening congenital condition, meaning it is present at birth. This obstruction fails to rupture when it typically does during fetal development. The cause of choanal atresia is unknown. Females get this condition about twice as often as males. When only one nostril is affected (unilateral atresia) it will typically be the right nostril. Twice as many babies are born with only one nostril affected (unilateral) as with both nostrils obstructed (bilateral choanal atresia). More than half of affected infants also have other congenital problems.
Babies are "obligate nose breathers", meaning that they can only breathe through their noses; the only time newborns breathe through their mouths is when they are crying. Babies with bilateral choanal atresia (both nostrils affected) will have severe respiratory distress (trouble breathing) in the newborn period with cyclical cyanosis (periods of their skin turning grey/blue due to lack of oxygen). This is because with crying they will be able to exchange air by mouth-breathing. However, when they close their mouths to suck they will not be able to breath. If only one nasal passage is obstructed this condition might not be detected for months or years.
The condition is the most common nasal abnormality in newborn infants, affecting about 1 in 7,000 live births. Our program has been tracking choanal atresia among live births in select counties since 2005 and are gradually expanding statewide.
- Using data from births to Hennepin and Ramsey county residents between 2010-2014, we found that 1.4 babies were born with choanal atresia per 10,000 births.
- Using this data, we estimate about 10 babies are born with choanal atresia every year in Minnesota.