Will my voice change after thyroid surgery?

Voice change is a known complication after thyroid surgery. There are two sets of nerves near the thyroid gland that help control the voice. These are the recurrent laryngeal nerve and the external branch of the superior laryngeal nerve. Damage to a recurrent laryngeal nerve can cause you to lose your voice. The chance that one of the recurrent laryngeal nerves will be permanently damaged is about 1 percent. A more subtle change in vocal function may be noticeable if you are a professional voice singer or public speaker.

Temporary voice changes, such as mild hoarseness, voice tiring and weakness are more common and can happen in 5 to 10 percent of patients. The temporary problem usually occurs because one or more of the nerves are irritated either by moving them out of the way during the operation or because of the inflammation that happens after the surgery. Although the voice usually improves in the first few weeks after surgery, it can last up to 6 months.

If both recurrent laryngeal nerves are damaged, the vocal cords may close and not allow air to pass from the mouth and nose into the lungs. In this case, a tracheostomy tube may need to be placed to allow passage of air into the lungs. This is extremely rare.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.