Can the Epiglottis Be Repaired?

Reviewed on 1/11/2021

Yes, epiglottis can be repaired using surgery.
Yes, epiglottis can be repaired using surgery.

Yes, epiglottis can be repaired using surgery. Swallowing is vital for life. We swallow hundreds of times a day, even while we are asleep. Swallowing involves the active participation of several muscles and nerves. The upper part of the food pipe opens during swallowing. The opening of the voice box (called glottis) is covered by a lid-like structure called the epiglottis that prevents the entry of any food particles or fluids into the windpipe (trachea) and further in the airways. Any damage to the epiglottis can hamper a person’s ability to eat, speak, and even breathe properly. Damage to the epiglottis can occur due to various reasons, such as cancer, injury, and infections. In such cases, epiglottis can be repaired through reconstructive surgery. However, repairs may be difficult in cases, such as extensive cancer, people who are on radiotherapy, and people with diseases of the blood vessels.

How is the epiglottis repair surgery performed?

Epiglottis repair surgery is done by a board-certified surgeon. The repair is done under general anesthesia (you sleep during the procedure).

Before the surgery

Your doctor may:

  • Order some blood tests, swallowing studies, and imaging studies (such as X-ray, computed tomography or CT scan, and magnetic resonance imaging or MRI).
  • Ask you of any chronic health conditions.
  • Ask you about any medications you are on.
  • Ask about any allergies you may have.
  • Explain the surgical procedure in detail, including possible complications, and address your doubts and concerns related to the surgery.
  • Obtain your written consent.
  • Ask you to not eat anything for at least 8 hours before the procedure.

During the surgery

The following will be done:

  • You will be asked to wear a hospital gown.
  • You will be asked to lie face upwards on the operating table. A shoulder roll may be placed to maximize the exposure of the neck. The head end of the operating table may be slightly elevated to minimize bleeding during the surgery.
  • The anesthesiologist will attach an intravenous line and administer anesthesia.
  • The doctor may insert a breathing tube (intubation) through the mouth or the nose, depending on the surgical approach.
  • Sterile drapes are placed, and the neck is cleaned with an antiseptic solution.
  • The surgeon gives a surgical cut or incision to gain access to the epiglottis.
  • The epiglottis is repaired, and the wound is closed with stitches. The doctor may harvest a flap of tissue from your forearm for reconstructing the epiglottis.
  • A sterile dressing is done.

After the surgery

The following will be done:

  • Your vital signs will be monitored in the recovery room.
  • You will be weaned off the anesthesia and administered painkillers.
  • Swallowing studies will be done to assess whether you can swallow properly.
  • Swallowing rehabilitation is done under supervision.

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What are the complications of the epiglottis repair surgery?

The complications of the epiglottis repair surgery include:

  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Aspiration (entry of fluids or solids into the airways)
  • Nerve injury
  • Injury to the vocal cords
  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Tooth injury
  • Changes in speech
  • Difficulty in swallowing

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References
Lohia S. Epiglottic Reconstruction Technique. Medscape. https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/2051357-technique#showall

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