When surgery is performed on the vocal cords, there are some very specific after-care that is required to allow for optimal healing. In order to understand the "why" such post-operative care is required, one must first understand how the vocal cords normally work. If you already know, just skip down to the bottom.
The vocal cords are arranged in the shape of a "V". When breathing, the vocal cords are open to allow air to pass through and down into the windpipe. When talking, the vocal cords come together and vibrate. Click here to watch a video.
When surgery is performed on the vocal cords, one is actually cutting into the actual organ that allows one to talk and make other noises.
As such, the care required after vocal cord surgery requires the elimination of any activity that may lead to damage to the surgery site and allow proper and safe healing.
I should mention that the following instructions are our opinion. Other laryngologists may have different after-care instructions.
Strict Voice Rest!
This means absolutely no talking and whispering. Such activities cause the vocal cords to come together and "bang" against the surgery site. I even instruct patients to avoid even mouthing words as it causes the brain to "think" you are talking even if you are not. Essentially, the lips should always remain closed except when eating/drinking.
The analogy would be if you have surgery done on the heel of your foot, you should not walk or put any weight on the heel, otherwise risk improper healing.
Strict voice rest typically lasts for 1-2 weeks after surgery.
No Coughing or Throat-Clearing
Just as with talking, coughing and throat-clearing also causes the vocal cords to come together and should be avoided if at all possible. Narcotic strength cough-suppressants (ie, hycodan) are often prescribed to help suppress the urge to cough.
Take Reflux Medications
Reflux medications should be taken both before and after surgery to prevent any possibility of acid damage to the surgery site. Such medications should be taken EVEN IF you do not have any symptoms of acid reflux. I typically recommend patients to start such medications one week before surgery and to continue for as long as 3 months after surgery.
Voice therapy is recommended before surgery so that patients will understand what and how they are supposed to talk once cleared to do so after surgery. It's much easier to answer questions and practice proper talking technique before surgery rather than after surgery when you are on strict voice rest!
The rationale for voice therapy is to prevent continued phono-trauma to a freshly healing surgery site on the vocal cord. Often, if improper talking technique persists after surgery, the surgery site becomes damaged again or heals with abnormal scar tissue leading to the possibility of needing surgery again.
Voice therapy minimizes the likelihood of needing repeat vocal cord surgery in the future!
Restricted Voice Rest
Once the period of strict voice rest ends, the patient is slowly allowed to talk under voice therapy guidance. From this point forward over the next 4-6 months, the patient is under restricted voice rest.
Restricted voice rest is a fairly broad phrase, but essentially means to:
• NEVER abuse the voice (ie, yelling, screaming, loud talking, etc)
• Talk only when you must (ie, no social talking)
This period of restricted voice rest is important because it allows time for the new vocal cord tissue that has developed to not only heal, but also strengthen. Abusing the voice may tear the freshly healed surgery site which must be avoided at all costs!
February 17, 2013
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