The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland in the neck that sits just above the collarbone and wraps around the windpipe. Its main function is to regulate metabolism — the process your body uses to transform food into the energy that is needed for the body for the function. The thyroid does this by producing hormones (called T3 and T4 hormones) that tell the body’s cells how much energy to use. These hormones can also impact heart rate, blood pressure, and energy levels.
If your child’s thyroid isn’t functioning the way it should, they may receive treatment from a pediatric endocrinologist — a physician who specializes in treating gland and hormone disorders in children. They may also need care from other providers, such as ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialists, depending on the type of thyroid concern.
At Children’s Hospital & Medical Center, we offer a monthly clinic that focuses specifically on helping patients manage thyroid conditions. It is a multidisciplinary clinic run by our Endocrinology and ENT specialists.
Conditions We Treat
Some of the most common thyroid conditions we treat include:
HypothyroidismHypothyroidism is an underactive thyroid gland. The thyroid doesn’t produce enough of the T3 and T4 hormones that the body needs to maintain a healthy metabolism. When this happens, normal body processes slow down, causing symptoms such as weight gain, dry skin, hair loss, constipation, and exhaustion.
When the condition is present from birth, it’s called “congenital hypothyroidism.” If it develops after birth, — typically from the autoimmune disorder Hashimoto’s thyroiditis — it’s called “acquired hypothyroidism.”
Hypothyroidism can’t be cured, but it can be almost completely controlled with hormone replacement therapy. When taken correctly and monitored by an endocrinologist, this therapy is a safe and effective way to allow your child to live a healthy, normal life.
Hyperthyroidism (Graves' Disease)Hyperthyroidism is an overactive thyroid gland. The thyroid produces too much of the T3 and T4 hormones, which causes body function and metabolism to speed up. This can lead to symptoms like nervousness, difficulty sleeping, weight loss, rapid heartbeat, or irritability. Hyperthyroidism can make a child feel very energetic at first, but can eventually cause the body to break down, leading to constant tiredness.
In most cases, hyperthyroidism is caused by the autoimmune disorder, Graves’ disease. However, some children develop hyperthyroidism from nodules (growths) on their thyroid gland, swelling of the thyroid (which is temporary and eventually leads to hypothyroidism), or certain drugs.
Treatment depends on the underlying cause of the hyperthyroidism, and it may involve medication, radioiodine therapy, or, less frequently, surgery.
Thyroid NodulesA thyroid nodule is a build-up of thyroid cells that forms a lump within the thyroid gland. Usually, these nodules are not cancerous. In rare causes, nodules can become so large that they press against the windpipe and cause difficulty breathing or swallowing — but in general, nodules do not cause noticeable symptoms. (Even so, it’s always important to let your child’s provider know if you notice a lump in your child’s neck so they can make sure that everything is okay).
Sometimes, a nodule doesn’t require any treatment other than regular monitoring to make sure it doesn’t grow or change. However, your child may need the nodule surgically removed if it is confirmed or suspected to be cancerous, if it is very large, it it is producing too much thyroid hormone, or if it’s impacting your child’s quality of life.
Since nodules sit on the throat, your child may need to work with both an endocrinologist and an ENT provider.
Thyroid CancerThyroid cancer is much less common in children and adolescents than it is in adults. When it does occur in children, it’s most often diagnosed in teenage girls.
Fortunately, thyroid cancer is very treatable in pediatric patients. The main treatment is surgery to remove part or all of the thyroid. If your child has their entire thyroid removed, they will need to take a thyroid hormone for the rest of their life. And since all children who have had thyroid cancer have a risk of recurrence, they will need follow-up care and monitoring after surgery.
Treatments and Services
We offer comprehensive medical and surgical management of thyroid disease. Our team will put together an individualized care plan that’s tailored to your child’s specific needs.
To learn about the common thyroid disease treatments, visit the American Thyroid Association website.
What To Do Next
Make An Appointment
The Thyroid Clinic is held the first Friday of the month in the ENT clinic on the first floor of the Specialty Pediatric Center. Call the ENT Department at 402-955-6370 to schedule an appointment. Your child will need a referral to the Thyroid Clinic.
For additional thyroid concerns, call our Endocrine Clinic at 402-955-3871.
For Referring Providers
The Physicians’ Priority Line is your 24-hour link to pediatric specialists at Children’s for referrals, emergency and urgent consults, physician-to-physician consults, admissions, and transport services. Call 855-850-KIDS (5437).
Learn more about referring patients.