Hope & Healing: The UF Health Blog

University of Florida Department of Otolaryngology offers multidisciplinary rehabilitation for people with voice and swallowing disorders

Cancer and stroke survivors who develop dysphagia receive coordinated and comprehensive care at University of Florida College of Medicine’s Department of Otolaryngology. The specialists are highly experienced in evaluating and treating even the most complex dysphagia cases using the latest imaging technology and innovative treatment approaches.

The UF team offers a unique voice and swallowing program that integrates surgical intervention when necessary to address anatomic limitations that arise as a consequence of cancer treatment or neurologic impairment. The program aims to restore quality of life in patients whose pathologies left them with the diminished ability to perform basic life functions such as swallowing and speaking.

According to Neil Chheda, M.D., chief of the Division of Laryngology in the Department of Otolaryngology, the approach at the University of Florida – part of UF Health, the Southeast’s most comprehensive academic health center – is multidisciplinary. “Historically, the care of the patient with a complex dysphagia was siloed with little communication between different departments. We have found that a more comprehensive approach delivers better outcomes.”

Dr. Chheda evaluates all aspects of swallow from mouth to stomach including in-office functional testing, and collaborates with all members of the patient’s care team to design a personalized treatment plan. “I work closely with the speech-language pathologist to look at form as well as function,” he says. Treatment may include exercises to strengthen oral musculature or improve coordination and, when appropriate, open or endoscopic surgery to address anatomic dysfunction, such as vocal fold paralysis, velar insufficiency, or upper esophageal sphincter compliance. “To my knowledge we offer more aggressive intervention than any other facility in Florida,” Chheda says.

Voice and swallowing disorders can make people feel depressed and socially isolated due to their condition. Thus, intervention begins as quickly as possible after the insult or, in head and neck cancers, once radiation concludes. Explains Dr. Chheda, “Our goal is to do what’s best for the patient to help them regain the ability to perform activities that you and I take for granted.”

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