More than 12% of Americans have thyroid disease. While some conditions are controllable by medication, others warrant invasive procedures. Thyroid surgery can be performed for several reasons including goiter, hyper and hypothyroidism, and cancer.
Since the nerves that control your vocal cords are located just behind the thyroid gland, thyroid conditions are sometimes associated with voice changes. Surgery can affect your voice as well.
The majority of such side effects is temporary. However, it’s important to be prepared for the outcome before you go into surgery to avoid anxiety during the recovery process.
Why Does Your Voice Change After Thyroid Surgery?
A person’s voice depends on the correct movement of two vocal cords. Each vocal cord is controlled by two nerves — the recurrent laryngeal nerve and the superior laryngeal nerve. Both of these nerves are extremely close to the thyroid gland. That’s why when the gland becomes enlarged, your voice can change.
After the surgery, the voice can sound different for several reasons:
Damage during the Procedure
During the surgery, laryngeal nerves can be affected by mechanical pressure or heat created by instruments.
In extremely rare cases, the surgeon can damage the nerve severely, causing a vocal cord to be paralyzed. The chance of permanent damage is less than 1%. However, even if that happens, various procedures exist to improve the quality of a patient’s voice.
In the majority of cases, slight damage to the laryngeal nerve heals quickly, bringing your voice back to normal within days.
Damage Related to Intubation
While many patients are afraid of nerve damage during the surgery, the reason behind it isn’t always the procedure itself.
Laryngeal nerves can also be bruised or slightly damaged during endotracheal intubation, which is arranged to keep your airway open during the surgery. The incidence of voice changes after intubation varies. Most problems resolve themselves within 72 hours.
How Does Your Voice Change After Thyroid Surgery?
In case vocal cord paralysis occurs, a patient’s voice can become hoarse. These symptoms can occur before the surgery as well. This happens if a person suffers from an aggressive form of thyroid cancer or a large goiter.
Other ways the voice can change include:
- Inability to raise the voice over loud background sounds
- Fatigue when speaking
- Voice weakness
- Problems with high-pitch voice (including loss of high pitch of singing voice)
- Inability to sing in falsetto
The voice can also undergo subtle changes, which an average person may not even notice. These changes can be registered with professional equipment.
When Does Your Voice Return to Normal?
The majority of patients reports their voice returning to normal within three to six months. To help your vocal nerves recover quickly, you can do the following:
- Consider giving your voice full rest for at least a couple of days after the surgery.
- Quit smoking. Smoking has a highly aggressive effect on your vocal tract, keeping your nerves and cords from healing.
- Drink plenty of water and keep the air in your home sufficiently humid. Water is necessary for your body to produce mucus that lubricates the vocal cords.
- Try to avoid clearing your throat to prevent further mechanical trauma to your vocal cords.
- Try not to talk for a long time to give your vocal nerves sufficient rest to heal quicker. Avoid long phone conversations.
- Avoid speaking loudly since it puts strain on your vocal cords.
- Try to speak slowly and rely on articulation to get your point through.
- Choose a comfortable pitch and sound level to prevent straining your cords.
In case your voice doesn’t start returning to normal after three months, speak with your surgeon.
What Can Be Done if the Voice Doesn’t Return to Normal?
If your voice doesn’t return to normal, your doctor may suggest voice therapy or bulk collagen injections.
If your vocal cords experience severe damage that results in paralysis, treatment options include:
- Structural implants — using an implant in the larynx to change the position of the vocal cord.
- Repositioning — moving the tissue to help the healthy vocal cord vibrate better against the unimpaired cord.
- Nerve replacement — moving a healthy nerve from a different area of the neck to replace the damaged cord.
It’s important to understand that serious vocal cord damage during thyroid surgery is rare. However, even if it does happen, various options exist to improve a patient’s voice tremendously.
Should You Expect Voice Changes After Thyroid Surgery?
While voice changes can occur after thyroid surgery, a big percentage of patients doesn’t experience them. However, in order to improve your recovery process, you need to be aware of this possible complication.
Many patients don’t expect their voice to change and tend to feel anxious and stressed by the way it sounds. It’s important to be prepared for this change and understand that it’s usually temporary. By following your surgeon’s recommendation closely, you can get your voice back to normal quickly.
How to Prevent Voice Changes after Thyroid Surgery
While minor voice changes can occur in a large percentage of patients, serious voice complications are rare. To prevent them from happening, it’s imperative to choose a reliable surgeon like our surgeons for your operation.
The majority of serious voice problems occurs when an anesthesiologist doesn’t perform intubation carefully or when a surgeon makes a mistake during the procedure. By working with experienced medical professionals, it’s possible to keep the risks of voice problems to a minimum.
Keeping Your Voice Intact After Thyroid Surgery
While many patients experience some degree of voice change after thyroid surgery, the effect is usually temporary. To prevent vocal nerve damage and speed up your recovery, take the time to choose a highly experienced surgeon.
At C/V ENT Surgical Group, we perform a variety of thyroid surgeries by using the latest equipment and technologies. To set up an appointment with an experienced surgeon at our clinics, please call us today.