Skip to main content


What Is TEF/EA?

Tracheoesophageal fistula (TEF) is a condition in which an abnormal channel (fistula) connects the windpipe (trachea) to the tube that leads from the mouth to the stomach (esophagus). Food and saliva can get into the trachea and lungs through this channel. This can cause coughing or choking or lead to lung infections or pneumonia.

Esophageal atresia (EA) is a condition in which the esophagus does not form completely in a developing baby. Usually, this means the tube leading down from the mouth and the tube leading up from the stomach do not meet. Instead, each section of tube has a closed end. A baby with EA cannot eat or drink by mouth because there is no way for food and liquid to travel from the mouth to the stomach.

There are several types of tracheoesophageal fistula and esophageal atresia. In the most common form, the upper part of the esophagus has a closed end and the lower part of the esophagus connects to the trachea. About 85% of children with TEF/EA have this form.

People often use the terms TEF and EA interchangeably. But each name refers to a specific problem. TEF and EA usually occur together, but sometimes a child has just one and not the other.

TEF/EA in Children

Both conditions are present when a child is born (congenital). About 1 in 4,000 children are born each year with TEF, EA or both. About one-third of these children are born early.

TEF/EA at Seattle Children’s

We treat many children with TEF/EA at Seattle Children’s. We usually see 10 to 15 children every year with one or both of these conditions.

When you come to Children’s, you have a team of people to care for your child before, during and after surgery. Along with your child’s surgeon, you are connected with doctors trained to care for new babies with complex problems (neonatologists), nurses, dietitians, child life specialists, social workers and others. We work together to meet all of your child’s health needs and help your family through this experience.

Since 1907, Children’s has been treating children only. Our team members are trained in their fields and also in meeting the unique needs of children. For example, the doctors who give your child anesthesia are board certified in pediatric anesthesiology. This means they have extra years of training in how to take care of kids. Our child life specialists know how to help children understand their illnesses and treatments in ways that make sense for their age. Our expertise in pediatrics truly makes a difference for our patients and families.

Who Treats This at Seattle Children's?

Should your child see a doctor?

Find out by selecting your child’s symptom or health condition in the list below:

Summer 2014: Good Growing Newsletter

In This Issue

  • Understanding the Power and Influence of Role Models
  • Legal Marijuana Means Greater Poisoning Risks for Children
  • Why Choose Pediatric Emergency Care?

Download Summer 2014 (PDF)