Violation of the hypopharynx by external penetrating trauma is an uncommon occurrence that may lead to life-threatening infectious complications if not recognized promptly and treated appropriately. A retrospective review of 48 such injuries seen during a 10-year period showed that flexible fiberoptic endoscopic examination is the best screening tool for recognition of a possible hypopharyngeal mucosal violation. Direct laryngopharyngoscopy is the best method of definitively diagnosing the injury. Size of the visualized mucosal violation alone is not sufficient information on which to base the decision for medical management versus surgical intervention (i.e., immediate exploration and drainage). Rather, the size, exact site of injury, and mechanism of the injury must be considered to have equal importance. Associated vertebral body fractures may negatively influence acute outcome if diagnosis and treatment of the hypopharyngeal injury are delayed by the cervical spine injury.
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