Research Corner: Predicting Aspiration Risk in Children

Duncan, D. R., Mitchell, P. D., Larson, K., & Rosen, R. L. (2018). Presenting Signs and Symptoms do not Predict Aspiration Risk in Children. The Journal of Pediatrics.


To determine if any presenting symptoms are associated with aspiration risk, and to evaluate the reliability of clinical feeding evaluation (CFE) in diagnosing aspiration compared with videofluoroscopic swallow study (VFSS).

Study design

We retrospectively reviewed records of children under 2 years of age who had evaluation for oropharyngeal dysphagia by CFE and VFSS at Boston Children’s Hospital and compared presenting symptoms, symptom timing, and CFE and VFSS results. We investigated the relationship between symptom presence and aspiration using the Fisher exact test and stepwise logistic regression with adjustment for comorbidities. CFE and VFSS results were compared using the McNemar test. Intervals from CFE to VFSS were compared using the Student t test.


A total of 412 subjects with mean (±SD) age 8.9 ± 6.9 months were evaluated. No symptom, including timing relative to meals, predicted aspiration on VFSS. This lack of association between symptoms and VFSS results persisted even in the adjusted multivariate model. The sensitivity of CFE for predicting aspiration by VFSS was 44%. Patients with a reassuring CFE waited 28.2 ± 8.5 days longer for confirmatory VFSS compared with those with a concerning CFE (P < .05).


Presenting symptoms are varied in patients with aspiration and cannot be relied upon to determine which patients have aspiration on VFSS. The CFE does not have the sensitivity to consistently diagnose aspiration so a VFSS should be performed in persistently symptomatic patients.