Laryngeal Dysfunction following Prolonged Intubation

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Prolonged endotracheal intubation in the adult is becoming more popular with the advent of “soft” tubes and cuffs. The many deleterious effects of such long-term intubation on the laryngotrachea have been extensively discussed in the literature. However, only sporatic attention has been given to vocal cord paresis or paralysis. The University of Cincinnati Medical Center experience with postintubation patients has shown that cord mobility disturbances are relatively common. Sixteen patients are presented who have had similar clinical findings and course following extubation. The clinical picture is that of a symmetrical vocal cord paresis or paralysis associated with arytenoid and posterior commissure edema and erythema. Vocal cord position is most often median or paramedian. A spontaneous recovery over days to weeks is the usual course. During the recovery phase cord movement most often remains symmetrical; however, full motion may occur in one cord before the other. In all patients abduction was most limited and slowest to return. In this series the most significant effect has been aspiration. Two patients developed a posterior commissure stenosis. This entity is believed to be due to inflammation initiated by the tube and its movement against the posterior half of the endolarynx. In particular, inflammatory involvement of the cricoarytenoid joints and interarytenoid region best explain the clinical course. When mucosal ulcerations and granulation tissue are superimposed on the immobilized cords interarytenoid scarring may lead to chronic stenosis.

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