What is a Thyroplasty?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A thyroplasty is a surgery which is designed to address weakened vocal cords. In the surgery, the doctor changes the length or position of the vocal cords to make them stronger. This surgery can be performed to correct voice disorders and to address issues such as coughing or choking while swallowing which may arise as a result of weakening in the vocal cords. An ear, nose, and throat surgeon is usually chosen to perform the procedure.

An ear, nose and throat surgeon will perform a thyroplasty.
An ear, nose and throat surgeon will perform a thyroplasty.

When the vocal cords become weak, the voice can become breathy and stressed. It is difficult to talk, and the patient may feel uncomfortable with the sound of his or her voice. In addition, it can be hard for people to hear or understand the patient. The weakening can also cause problems with eating or drinking which may lead to malnutrition or unintended weight loss.

During a thyroplasty, a patient will be placed under sedation.
During a thyroplasty, a patient will be placed under sedation.

In a thyroplasty procedure, the patient is usually placed under sedation and given a local anesthetic. The surgeon makes a small incision in the neck to access the vocal cords. After making adjustments and possibly implanting a wedge to strengthen the vocal cords, the surgeon can ask the patient to talk. This allows the surgeon to judge the success of the procedure right away, and to make any needed adjustments. The procedure can take one to two hours in total.

A thyroplasty can be used to address issues such as choking while swallowing.
A thyroplasty can be used to address issues such as choking while swallowing.

After the thyroplasty procedure, the incision is closed, and the patient is taken to recovery to rest. Patients are usually advised to refrain from straining their voices during recovery, and may be given dietary recommendations. Until the incision heals and the stitches are removed, the patient must be careful to keep the surgical site dry. Antibiotics are also typically prescribed as a prophylactic to prevent infection.

Once the site is fully healed, the patient should be able to use her or his voice normally. If problems persist after the thyroplasty, additional evaluation may be needed to learn more about why the patient is experiencing speech problems. It can also help to work with a speech pathologist who can help the patient with speaking and swallowing.

When selecting a surgeon to work with for a thyroplasty, it is advisable to look up the surgeon's record, and to ask the surgeon about his or her experience. A competent surgeon will be happy to talk to patients about how many surgeries she or he has performed, and what kind of outcomes patients experience. The surgeon should also fully disclose potential risks so that the patient can make an informed decision about the surgery.

Weakened vocal cords may cause eating or drinking problems, leading to unintended weight loss.
Weakened vocal cords may cause eating or drinking problems, leading to unintended weight loss.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

anon245611

How much does this surgery cost?

anon143128

My wife had a thyroplasty implant 14 years ago. That one was dislodged by an anesthesiologist when he inserted tubes into her throat during a gall bladder operation.

The medical people were told prior to operation that she had had a throat operation years earlier, but we had not described the thyroplasty implant. We assume the people operating did not see the implant, so 18 months ago a larger implant was installed (decision by our specialist at the time). He said he thought a larger one would be better. Now her voice has deteriorated and so an appointment has been made with the same specialist to examine her. We may discover that a smaller one is the answer. Much choking and coughing has developed over the past several months.

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