Tracheoesophageal fistula (TEF) is a congenital (present at birth) condition where an abnormal connection (a fistula) exists between the windpipe (trachea) and the esophagus (the tube that carries food and water from the mouth to the stomach).
During fetal development, this tube is one and then divides into two before birth. There are several ways this division can go wrong, leading to food and water not entering the stomach correctly, but instead, entering the airway. This causes the child to choke and cough and may lead to lung infections such as pneumonia. These are the two major signs of the condition.
TEF is sometimes confused with esophageal atresia (EA), perhaps because almost 90 percent of babies born with esophageal atresia also have a tracheoesophageal fistula. About 1 in 4,000 children are born each year with TEF, EA or both.
Surgical treatments are available, sometimes in stages, and are usually begun shortly after birth.