How intubation can affect a patient’s voice

A patient having thyroid or parathyroid surgery must be given a general anesthetic. This means that an anesthesiologist will insert a breathing tube for the administration of general anesthesia.

The tube used for the general anesthetic goes between the vocal cords, which creates some degree of trauma to a patient’s vocal cords just from having the endotracheal tube inserted. This is the primary reason that most patients having just had thyroid or parathyroid surgery walk away with a slightly scratchy voice.

Protecting Against Long-term Voice Problems

Dr. Kroeker’s job as a surgeon is to protect the patient’s recurrent laryngeal nerves as well as the external branches of the superior laryngeal nerve. These nerves are what innervate (supply with nerves) your vocal cords. As long as the recurrent laryngeal nerves are protected then a patient will not have any long-term voice problems.

However, there are people who will have some degree of hoarseness after surgery from

  1. the endotracheal tube (breathing tube), and also from
  2. the edema (excess of watery fluid collecting in the cavities or tissues) in the area around your larynx where the operation takes place.

No permanent damage or alteration of the vocal cords or voice should occur unless there is some kind of nerve injury, which is very rare during thyroid or parathyroid surgery. Dr. Kroeker performs flexible laryngoscopy in the office before and after surgery to look at your vocal cords to verify that they are moving.