Voice Feminization Surgery – Postoperative assessment

Obligatory procedures

Day of Surgery

In the recovery room, direct after surgery voice use is not allowed. Postoperative bedside assessment of breathing and swallowing is recommended. Extensive voice assessment is not advisable (and not necessary) at this point. Some colleagues allow very soft, unstrained whispering. Later on, transoral or transnasal laryngoscopy is advisable to rule out complications (e.g., compromised airway, swelling, hematoma, torn sutures, etc.) and to reassure the patient that surgical results are satisfactory. In case of an indication for early revision surgery (e.g., ruptured suture after coughing), early identification of an endolaryngeal problem (or others) may be helpful. If a postoperative ambulatory setting is chosen, an accompanying person is needed to aid the patient for twenty-four hours (in some countries mandatory after surgery in general anesthesia). Of course, all general conditions that are usually important when a patient is discharged must be observed as well. Postoperative administration of medication such as antibiotics, gastric acid blockers, cough suppressants, cortisone, or the like should be discussed with the physician in each individual case. For other postoperative behavior recommendations: see Dos and Don’ts below.

Follow-up on the day after surgery

Laryngoscopy on the day after surgery seems not mandatory. However, many patients feel greatly reassured when endoscopy proves that no surgical complication is followed after inadvertent coughing or throat clearing.

Dos and donts

From the surgical day on and for the upcoming days/weeks (mostly approx. 2 weeks) strict avoidance of coughing, throat clearing, loud voicing, sneezing, and laughing is highly recommended. These actions are associated with high expiratory airflow which is risking forced separation of the vocal folds and pulls the sutures. Food and beverages should be chosen to not induce coughing and throat clearing. Sporting activities should be avoided for the same reason, and furthermore forced inspiration and expiration can by itself endanger vocal fold suture adherence.

After a successful operation, the voice may be used at a confidential loudness level after 2 weeks at the earliest. From what point in time stronger voice loads, e.g., in singing or loud speaking are possible, is to be decided by the physician on a case-by-case basis. In order to avoid swelling of the larynx and the tearing of the sutures, coughing, throat clearing, sneezing, and laughing now should still be avoided.

Don’t speak – just whisper

If the patient has the urge to cough or sneeze, exhalation of as much air as possible before coughing is advisable so that there is no high airflow and pressure build-up below the glottis. Possibly, also simultaneous tight closing of the mouth and nose with one’s hand will prevent rapid air escape and protect the vocal folds from forcefully separating with an air blow-induced disruption.

Eating and drinking: After a glottoplasty, there is no general restriction to a specific food, so in principle, everything can be eaten and drunk. However, avoidance of very spicy food is recommendable.

Sports: Avoidance of sports activities for the first 6 weeks after glottoplasty is advisable. All loud vocal utterances must be strictly avoided. If necessary, consultation with a doctor in individual cases is recommended to allow for gentle sporting activities.

Do’s and Donts: In most cases, voice therapists have a detailed regime for the postoperative phase with Dos and Donts.

Long-term follow-up

Follow-up checks are carried out on an individual basis. Exercise treatment to feminize the voice is recommended with a voice therapist by individual appointment. Telemedicine sessions via Skype, Zoom, or the like, are also possible. Further interventions (e.g., botulinum toxin injections) can supplement the treatment.

In the future, in the event of possible intubation for general anesthesia, the patient should inform anesthesiologists that a thin intubation tube should be used and that it should have a maximum diameter of size 6.0 (ETT size 6.0 maximum, or smaller). A laryngeal mask (LMA) would even be better. There are no restrictions on the size of the laryngeal mask.