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Saturday, December 15, 2012

Voice Amplification for Patients with a Weak Voice

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There are certain voicebox conditions that naturally tends to a weak sounding voice.

For some, the voice is weak all the time sounding breathy or just lacks projection. For others, the voice starts out OK, but than becomes weak after talking for some period of time. There are both pathological (ie, vocal cord paralysis) as well as functional (ie, muscle tension dysphonia) causes of a weak voice, but in the end, a patient just wants a better sounding voice one way or another.

Although voice therapy is a standard way of addressing vocal weakness regardless of causation as well as possible surgical interventions, patients still need to use their voice and in order to obtain an immediately improved vocal strength is to use electronic amplification.

For the same reason a pop star singer uses a microphone to amplify their voice to be heard in a gigantic stadium, a person with a weak voice can use a similar system to amplify their voice in more mundane situations.

In essence, such personal voice amplification systems contain 2 components: microphone and speaker. The microphone is placed near the mouth and the speaker placed near the person, typically on a belt.
Such systems are relatively cheap costing less than $100. Many models can be found on Amazon.comat a discount.

The "premium" voice amplification systems are by Chattervoxand cost several hundred dollars.

Some examples can be found here.


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Julie Andrews and Her "Botched Throat Surgery"

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It has already been well-publicized that the former singing sensation Julie Andrews underwent some type of throat surgery in 1997 after which she never regained her phenomenal 4-octave voice thus relegating her to more conventional roles of being an actress without the singing. This "botched throat surgery" per Julie Andrews lead to a lawsuit that was ultimately settled.

It is unknown precisely what type of (presumed) vocal cord pathology was present as well as what type of surgical approach was used to try and fix it. In a recent interview, she stated:
"The operation that I had left me without a voice and without a certain piece of my vocal chords"
However, given her aggressive and active singing career prior to surgery, she probably had vocal cord nodules, a benign growth that occurs due to vocal overuse, a situation not uncommon with professional singers.

Vocal cord nodules are most always due to excessive voice use leading to "callous" formation on the vocal cord lining, much like shoveling dirt will eventually lead to callous formation on the hands.

Traditional standard of care management of vocal cord nodules is voice therapy and avoidance of any activities leading to voice abuse (screaming, yelling, etc). However, resolution of nodules with such behavior focused treatment takes months. However, although it takes a while for the nodules to resolve with this treatment method, they typically do not come back.

For patients who are more "impatient" for results (not unusual with professional singers whose livelihoods depend on singing), there are more aggressive ways to address vocal cord nodules with possible resolution within weeks. However, the caveat is if the underlying voice behavior that led to nodule formation in first place is not addressed, the vocal cord nodule WILL recur after initial resolution/improvement. Furthermore, as with any more invasive treatments to obtain a "quick fix", scar formation may occur leading to permanent voice changes, usually for the worse which obviously happened with Julie Andrews.

What are some of these more invasive treatments beyond voice therapy? To reiterate, these procedures also have a high risk of recurrence if underlying abusive voice behavior that led to the nodule formation in first place is not first addressed.

• Surgical excision can be performed, but can lead to permanent scar formation during the healing process that can lead to persistent irreversible hoarseness.

• Botox injection can also be pursued which causes a "partial" vocal cord paralysis preventing the repetitive trauma in the region of the vocal cord nodule.

• Steroid injection to the vocal cord nodule(s) can possibly resolve or reduce the nodule resulting in improved vocal quality within weeks. Such local injection technique has mainly been performed in the treatment of spasmodic dysphonia (botox injection), vocal cord granulomas, and vocal cord paralysis. Watch a video how a "local injection" to the vocal cord can be performed (video shows injection of vocal cord granuloma rather than nodule, but overall approach is identical).

Read more about vocal cord nodules here.

Julie Andrews' Voice Isn't Coming Back, But She's Not Staying Silent. Huffington Post 12/5/12

PUBLIC LIVES; Julie Andrews Sues Throat Surgeon. NYT 12/15/99

Julie Andrews Settles Lawsuit Against Doctors. ABC News 9/7/12

Monday, December 10, 2012

Coffee Reduces Risk of Death from Oral Cancer

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In a prior blog, I mentioned that researchers found that regular coffee drinkers who drank more than four cups of coffee a day had a 39 percent decreased risk of two types of head and neck cancer: oral cavity and pharynx cancers. In the study published in the Journal of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, they found however, that coffee did not decrease the risk of laryngeal cancer. Read a CNN report on this here.

In a more recent study (Dec 2012), researchers have found that not only does coffee reduce risk of cancer, but that consuming more than four cups of caffeinated coffee per day was associated with a 49 percent lower risk of oral/pharyngeal cancer death relative to no/occasional coffee intake.

Coffee contains over 1,000 different chemical compounds, including cancer-fighting antioxidants, and it’s those antioxidants that may provide a “plausible explanation” for reducing the cancer risk as well as cancer death.

However, patients should not take this study as an excuse to increase their coffee intake specifically to counteract known cancer-causing behaviors including smoking, drinking alcohol, and chewing tobacco.

Coffee and Tea Intake and Risk of Head and Neck Cancer: Pooled Analysis in the International Head and Neck Cancer Epidemiology Consortium. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2010 Jul;19(7):1723-36. doi: 10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-10-0191. Epub 2010 Jun 22.

Coffee, Tea, and Fatal Oral/Pharyngeal Cancer in a Large Prospective US Cohort. American Journal of Epidemiology, 2012 DOI: 10.1093/aje/kws222

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Embedded Earrings and Treatment


A few times a month, I have a patient, usually a young child, who presents with an earring that not only can not be removed, but is embedded within the earlobe (or ear) itself.

There are two common scenarios that lead to this unfortunate situation: infection and fiddling.

Infection is fairly straightforward. For whatever reason, the piercing gets infected and the earlobe skin starts to swell around and eventually even enveloping the earring itself. To prevent an embedded earring, immediately remove the earring!!! If you wait until the swelling is too severe, it may not be possible to remove the earring at all without surgical intervention. This type of infection can occur rapidly from being normal to rip-roaring infected swelling within 24 hours.

Fiddling is basically when the patient keeps tightening the earring backing snug with the skin as tightly as possible so the earring won't loosen and potentially get lost. However, such tightening can actually induce the skin to overgrow the earring with subsequent infection. Always make sure there is some “play” that allows the earring to push back and forth through the ear and turn easily.

Now, should the earring become embedded and manual removal not possible, surgical intervention is required.

The steps are as follows:

1) Sterilize the area with betadine.
2) Inject area with lidocaine.
3) After the area becomes anesthetized, a scalpel is used to create an "X" shaped incision over the embedded earring.
4) Toothed forceps and clamps are used to grab and pull the embedded earring out.

Aftercare typically involves oral antibiotics and application of antibiotic ointment several times a day. Once the infection clears, I typically recommend waiting a few months before re-piercing to allow scar activity to completely fade first.

Also, keep in mind that they DO make earrings that are physically impossible to tighten up against the skin to reduce the possibility of embedded earrings.

On that note, we do offer ear-piercing in our office.
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