A full recovery from vocal cord surgery can take 3–6 months or longer, depending on the procedure. Drinking enough water, getting adequate rest, and not speaking too soon can help speed up recovery.

Vocal cord surgery is a medical procedure performed on the vocal cords to treat various voice disorders or throat problems.

Recovery can vary depending on the individual, but there are some general recommendations to help speed it up.

The vocal cords are two bands of muscle tissue located in the larynx (voice box) that vibrate to produce sound when a person speaks or sings.

An otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat doctor) or a laryngologist (a specialist in voice disorders) typically performs surgery on these delicate structures.

This article looks at what to know about vocal cord surgery recovery.

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Every person’s recovery process is different. Some may recover quicker, while others may take longer, especially if there are complications or the surgery is extensive.

However, general expectations are as follows:

  • Immediate postoperative period (first few days to a week): The first few days after surgery are crucial for initial healing. Doctors often advise complete vocal rest during this period to allow the vocal cords to start healing.
  • Short-term recovery (a few weeks to a month): In the weeks following surgery, the vocal cords begin to heal more significantly. People may start speaking again, usually under the guidance of a healthcare professional, but the voice may still be weak or hoarse. Follow-up visits are typical during this time to monitor healing.
  • Longer-term healing (1–3 months): By this stage, many people notice considerable improvements in their voice and may return to more regular voice use. Doctors may recommend voice therapy to strengthen the voice and improve vocal function.
  • Full recovery (3–6 months or longer): Full healing can take several months. The exact duration depends on the type of surgery and individual factors.

Recovering from vocal cord surgery requires a careful approach to activities, diet, voice use, and overall lifestyle. Here are some specific recommendations:

  • Observe strict silence: Immediately after surgery, adhere to a strict period of vocal rest as a doctor advises — no talking, whispering, or throat clearing.
  • Increase gradually: After the vocal rest period, gradually reintroduce speaking, starting with a soft natural voice without whispering and slowly increasing the volume as tolerated.
  • Get adequate rest: Get enough sleep and avoid overexertion.
  • Eat a balanced diet: Eat a nutritious diet to support healing.
  • Drink water: Keep the throat moist by drinking plenty of water.
  • Perform gentle exercise: Engage in light activities such as walking. Avoid strenuous exercises until cleared by a doctor.
  • Eat soft foods: Initially, people might prefer soft, easy-to-swallow foods.
  • Manage stress: Engage in stress-reducing activities such as reading, meditation, or light walks.
  • Use a humidifier: Keeping the air moist, especially in dry environments, helps the throat.

After vocal cord surgery, it is important to avoid certain activities and factors that could hinder recovery or cause additional strain on the vocal cords.

This includes:

  • Speaking too soon or too much: People should avoid talking during the initial vocal rest period prescribed by their doctor. After this period, they should avoid having long conversations, speaking loudly or for extended periods, putting on character voices, grunting, or laughing harshly.
  • Whispering: Whispering can actually strain the vocal cords more than normal speech.
  • Inhaling irritants: It is best to avoid smoking and pollutant exposure, as these can irritate the vocal cords.
  • Eating spicy foods: Spicy foods can irritate the throat.
  • Drinking alcohol: This can dehydrate the body and vocal cords. It is best to limit or avoid it entirely during recovery.
  • Coughing and clearing the throat: These actions can be harsh on the vocal cords. People should try sipping water instead.

Voice therapy is a type of therapy that aims to improve or rehabilitate the voice.

A speech-language pathologist (SLP), which is a specialist in assessing and treating people with voice and fluency disorders, will typically assist with voice therapy.

Voice therapy can be beneficial for a variety of conditions, including those caused by vocal cord nodules, polyps, paralysis, strain, or misuse, and after vocal cord surgery.

The therapy involves a series of techniques and exercises tailored to the individual’s specific needs.

The outlook for someone following vocal cord surgery generally depends on various factors, including:

  • the type of surgery
  • the underlying reason for the surgery
  • the person’s overall health
  • how well they adhere to postoperative care
  • the presence of any complications

In most cases, the outlook after surgery is positive, especially when an experienced surgeon performs it and the individual follows the proper postoperative care.

People should seek medical attention if they experience unexpected symptoms after vocal cord surgery.

These may include:

This section answers some frequently asked questions about vocal cord surgery recovery.

How long does it take to heal after vocal cord surgery?

The healing time after vocal cord surgery varies depending on several factors, including the type of surgery, the individual’s overall health, the severity of their condition, and how well they follow postoperative care instructions.

Some surgeries, like those for vocal cord paralysis or more extensive procedures, may require a longer recovery period of 6 months or more.

How painful is vocal cord surgery?

Vocal cord surgery is typically not intensely painful, but experiences can vary based on the individual and the type of procedure.

Most surgeries involve local or general anesthesia, so there is no pain during the procedure itself.

After surgery, people may experience some discomfort, which can include:

  • Throat pain: mild to moderate soreness or a sensation of scratchiness in the throat
  • Speaking discomfort: initial discomfort when speaking as the vocal cords heal
  • Swallowing difficulty: mild pain or discomfort when swallowing

Pain management, usually with over-the-counter pain relievers or prescription medications, can effectively control these symptoms.

How serious is vocal cord surgery?

Vocal cord surgery is generally considered a safe procedure, but as with all surgeries, it carries certain risks. The seriousness can vary depending on the type of surgery or the underlying condition.

People should receive a thorough evaluation before surgery to assess any risks. The potential benefits often outweigh the risks, especially in cases of chronic voice issues or malignant conditions.

While individual outcomes can vary, the overall outlook following vocal cord surgery is generally positive, particularly with appropriate medical care, voice rest, and possibly therapy.

People must have realistic expectations and closely follow the guidance of their healthcare team for the best possible outcome.