What is thyroplasty (medialization laryngoplasty)?
Medialization laryngoplasty (formerly known as thyroplasty) is a surgical treatment for vocal cord paralysis. Your surgeon places an implant into your paralyzed or weak vocal cord. The implant moves a nonfunctioning vocal cord toward the functioning one to allow for better voicing.
What is vocal cord paralysis?
Vocal cord paralysis affects your voice box (larynx) in your throat. Your voice box has two vocal cords (also called vocal folds). These smooth muscles help you breathe, speak and swallow. When you talk or cough, air moves through your lungs and into your windpipe (trachea) and across your voice box. Your vocal cords vibrate as air passes through them. This is what produces the sound that’s shaped into your voice.
When you have unilateral vocal cord paralysis, one vocal cord doesn’t move (paralysis). Sometimes, the movement is very weak. It’s uncommon for vocal cord paralysis to affect both vocal cords. Bilateral vocal cord paralysis can be a life-threatening/altering condition that requires specialized care by an ear nose and throat (ENT) surgeon.
What are the signs of unilateral vocal cord paralysis?
Symptoms of vocal cord paralysis include:
- Chronic cough.
- Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia) or choking.
- Frequent throat clearing.
- Shortness of breath when talking or doing activities.
Who needs thyroplasty (medialization laryngoplasty)?
Some people have mild voice impairment with vocal cord paralysis. These people may be meeting their vocal needs without surgical intervention. Your surgeon may recommend surgery when symptoms are severe, life-disrupting or potentially life-threatening. Overall, if you’re struggling to meet the vocal demands of your work and life, medicalization laryngoplasty can be very helpful in restoring vocal function.
Certain illnesses and medical procedures may lead to the need for thyroplasty. These include:
- Autoimmune diseases like myasthenia gravis.
- Cancers like lung cancer or thyroid cancer.
- Cancer treatments like radiation therapy to your head, neck or chest.
- Neurological conditions like Parkinson’s disease and stroke.
- Neck or chest surgery.
- Trauma to your neck or chest.
- Tumors in your brain, neck or chest.
- Upper respiratory infections like bronchitis, the common cold and flu.
- Use of a breathing tube (intubation or mechanical ventilation).
Who performs thyroplasty (medialization laryngoplasty)?
A laryngeal surgeon performs this procedure. This medical doctor specializes in diagnosing and treating conditions that affect your larynx. Laryngology is an ear, nose and throat (ENT or otolaryngology) subspecialty.
What happens before thyroplasty (medialization laryngoplasty)?
You should follow your healthcare provider’s instructions on steps to take before the procedure. For instance, you may need to:
- Fast (not eat or drink) for a certain period before surgery.
- Quit smoking.
- Stop taking medications, vitamins and herbal supplements.
What happens during thyroplasty (medialization laryngoplasty)?
Thyroplasty is a surgical procedure that takes place in an operating room.
During thyroplasty to treat unilateral vocal cord paralysis, your surgeon:
- Makes a small incision in your neck and locates your voice box.
- Creates a small window in your voice box alongside your vocal cord.
- Tests your voice and places a customized implant that improves your voice.
- Closes the incision with dissolvable stitches.
- Secures a bandage to your neck.
Risks / Benefits
How effective is thyroplasty (medialization laryngoplasty)?
Thyroplasty can help restore your voice and treat other symptoms of vocal cord paralysis. People often experience a significant improvement in their vocal function.
What are the risks of thyroplasty (medialization laryngoplasty)?
Any surgery carries a risk of infection and bleeding. You’ll have a small scar on your neck from the incision.
Some of the symptoms that existed before surgery may still be present for a short while after surgery as your voice box heals. You may have temporary neck soreness, hoarseness, vocal changes, and breathing and swallowing difficulties. Only in rare instances are these side effects permanent.
Recovery and Outlook
How long does it take to recover from thyroplasty (medialization laryngoplasty)?
You’ll be discharged the same day or stay overnight in the hospital. You’ll need to rest your voice for a few days, but complete silence isn’t necessary.
When you resume talking, don’t overdo it. This means no yelling, loud talking or long conversations. After one week, you can resume all normal communication.
To aid recovery:
- Drink plenty of fluids and start with soft foods if you have a sore throat.
- Don’t shower, and keep the bandaged area of your neck dry, for three days after surgery.
- Take antibiotics, steroids and pain relievers as prescribed by your healthcare provider.
- Avoid lifting anything that weighs more than 15 pounds or engaging in strenuous activity like running for two weeks. Walking is OK.
- Participate in voice therapy if recommended by your healthcare provider.
Is a thyroplasty permanent?
In rare instances, your healthcare provider may need to remove or revise your implant. But the device is often permanent.
When to Call the Doctor
When should I call my healthcare provider?
You should call your healthcare provider if you experience:
- Difficulty breathing.
- Extreme pain.
- Signs of infection, such as fever or yellow discharge.
- Swelling (edema) or bleeding at the incision site.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Medialization laryngoplasty (formerly known as thyroplasty) can help restore your voice and improve your ability to swallow when you have unilateral vocal cord paralysis or spasmodic dysphonia. If nonsurgical treatments don’t help, you should ask your healthcare provider about this treatment.
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