► Health Information LibraryHealth TopicsHealthy LifestyleBranchial cleft cyst

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

Exams and Tests

Your baby's health care provider may be able to diagnose this condition during a physical examination. The following tests may be done:

  • CT scan
  • MRI scan
  • Ultrasound


Antibiotics will be given if the cyst or sinuses are infected.

Surgery is generally indicated to remove a branchial cyst to prevent complications, such as infections.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Surgery is usually successful, with good results.

Possible Complications

The cyst or sinuses may become infected if not removed.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

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.


Wetmore RF, Potsic WP. Differential diagnosis of neck masses. In: Flint PW, Haughey BH, Lund LJ, et al, eds. Cummings Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2010:chap 198.

To Top