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Branchial cleft cyst



A branchial cleft cyst is a lump that develops in the neck or just below the collarbone. It is a type of birth defect.

Alternative Names

Cleft sinus


Branchial cleft cysts form during development of the embryo. They occur when tissues in the neck and collarbone area (branchial cleft) fail to develop normally.

The birth defect may appear as open spaces called cleft sinuses, which may develop on one or both sides of the neck. A branchial cleft cyst may form from fluid drained from a sinus. The cyst or sinus can become infected.

  • Small pits, lumps, or skin tags at either side of the neck or just below the collarbone
  • Fluid drainage from a pit on the neck
Signs and tests

Your baby's health care provider will be able to diagnose this condition with a physical examination. Testing is usually not necessary.

Support Groups

Expectations (prognosis)

Most branchial cleft remnants require no treatment. If surgery is required, results are usually good.

Calling your health care provider

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you notice a small pit, cleft, or lump in the neck or upper shoulder of your infant, especially if fluid drains from this area.


Complications include infection of the cyst or sinus.


Infected branchial cleft cysts or sinuses require antibiotic treatment. If there are persistent problems with drainage or infection, any cysts should be surgically removed.



McGuirt WF Sr. Differential diagnoses of neck masses. In: Cummings CW, Flint PW, Haughey BH, et al., eds. Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 4th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2005:chap 112.

Review Date: 11/2/2009
Reviewed By: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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