The two pairs of parathyroid glands are located behind the thyroid gland in the neck. The four tiny glands function as part of the endocrine system; specifically, they release parathyroid hormone, which regulates the levels of calcium in your bloodstream.
Calcium helps make strong bones and teeth, while also helping your body maintain normal muscle and nerve function. The parathyroid glands raise the amount of calcium in your blood with three methods: by removing excess calcium from your bones, absorbing more calcium from your diet, or lowering the amount of calcium excreted through urine.
Fortunately for overanxious parents, parathyroid diseases are very rare in children. Even so, they can still occur in pediatric patients. There are two main types of parathyroid diseases:
- Hyperpatathyroidism: conditions related to overactive parathyroid glands, which causes too much calcium to build up in your blood. Symptoms of these diseases include bone aches and pains, abdominal pain, and depression. They can be caused by benign tumors called adenoma, and very rarely, by parathyroid cancer (emphasis on very rare). In some cases, surgery will be required to cure the condition, but it’s hardly one of the most common ENT problems in children, like hearing loss or sinus infections.
- Hypoparathroidism: This occurs when the parathyroid hormone is ineffective, leading to a deficiency of calcium in your bloodstream. Low calcium levels can lead to painful muscle spasms, which are usually treated with infusions of calcium and Vitamin D.
Unlike some thyroid diseases, there isn’t a replacement for parathyroid hormone. Because parathyroid glands are located in the neck, pediatric parathyroid diseases are often treated by doctors who specialize in ear nose and throat problems in children and adolescents. The repair of facial and neck injuries and parathyroid diseases require careful diagnosis, so consult an ear nose and throat doctor if any symptoms of parathyroid diseases present themselves in a child in your care.
Occasionally, parathyroid diseases require a specialist to perform a parathyroidectomy, in which the glands are removed. If overactive parathyroid glands are left in the body for too long, then severe complications can occur, such as bones becoming extremely delicate and prone to fractures. Usually, a pediatric ENT specialist will attempt non-surgical treatments first.