Airway Fistulas

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Fistulas are connections between two organs that nature never intended. Airway fistulas are holes that can occur in the membranes that separate parts of the airway from adjacent structures. They include bronchial fistulas, bronchopleural fistulas, bronchocutaneous fistulas, and tracheoesophageal fistulas.

The most common type of fistula is a connection between the trachea or bronchi and the esophagus (tracheoesophageal or bronchoesophageal fistule). This type of fistula is usually due to a malignant or cancerous tumor in the airway or in the esophagus. Although they can occur spontaneously, they are more common following chemotherapy and/or radiation to treat the underlying tumor. Benign conditions can also result in fistula formation.

We feature advanced imaging techniques and work closely with UT Southwestern’s pulmonary and gastroenterology experts to deliver comprehensive care for airway fistulas – all in one location, and usually on the same day.


  • Chest pain
  • Cough or choking during eating
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Fever
  • Pneumonia
  • Shortness of breath


If we suspect that you have an airway fistula, we will conduct a physical examination and order tests to confirm the diagnosis.

Tests, procedures, and thoracic (chest) imaging studies used to diagnose an airway fistula might include:


UT Southwestern’s skilled thoracic surgeons perform the most advanced procedures to treat airway fistulas, some of which can be performed minimally invasively, through a bronchoscope, video assisted, or robotically.

Treatment options include primary repair of the fistula, bronchoscopic modalities, or placement of a stent.

Clinical Trials

UT Southwestern conducts clinical trials aimed at improving the treatment of airway fistulas. Talk with your doctor to see if a clinical trial is right for you.

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