Branchial cleft cysts usually present as a soft cystic mass along the anterior border of the sternocleidomastoid muscle. These lesions are usually recognized in the second or third decades of life, often when they suddenly swell or become infected. To prevent recurrent infection and possible carcinoma, they should be completely excised, along with their fistulous tracts.
First branchial cleft cysts present high in the neck, sometimes just below the ear. A fistulous connection with the floor of the external auditory canal may be present. Second branchial cleft cysts, which are far more common, may communicate with the tonsillar fossa. Third branchial cleft cysts, which may communicate with the piriform sinus, are rare and present low in the neck.
2. THYROGLOSSAL DUCT CYSTS
Thyroglossal duct cysts occur along the embryologic course of the thyroid’s descent from the tuberculum impar of the tongue base to its usual position in the low neck. Although they may occur at any age, they are most common before age 20. They present as a midline neck mass, often just below the hyoid bone, which moves with swallowing. Surgical excision is recommended to prevent recurrent infection and rare malignancy. This requires removal of the entire fistulous tract along with the middle portion of the hyoid bone through which many of the fistulas pass. CT or ultrasound or both are often obtained preoperatively to understand associated neck anatomy, including position of the thyroid.