Voice and Swallowing Team Is a Regional Leader

The Center for Voice and Swallowing Disorders at Wake Forest Baptist is North Carolina’s most comprehensive center for state-of-the-art evaluation and treatment of dysphonia, dysphagia and upper respiratory problems. S. Carter Wright, MD and Catherine J. Rees, MD, along with a team of specialized nurses and speech language pathologists, employ the latest diagnostic tools, therapies and surgical techniques for voice and swallowing problems.

The team evaluates all types of dysphonia or voice disorders. Spasmodic dysphonia is a particular focus of Wright’s. Working in concert with a neurologist, the center provides Botox® injection treatment to selectively weaken muscles that are malfunctioning in the larynx, resulting in improved voice quality.

In evaluation of dysphagia, or swallowing disorders, the goal is to provide a comprehensive assessment, from the lips to the stomach, by one closely integrated team of clinicians, according to Rees. The team offers targeted dysphagia therapy and procedures for swallowing problems.

Butler is involved in groundbreaking research that could change how people with swallowing problems are treated. She discovered in a swallowing study that 30 percent of participants over age 65 unknowingly aspirated a small amount of thin liquid (either water or milk) into their lungs without coughing and with no apparent health effects. According to current treatment guidelines, however, this is a serious risk for pneumonia, so these “silent aspirators” are told to drink only thickened liquids.

“That represents a huge quality-of-life issue, because patients don’t like the thickened liquids, so they don’t drink very much and they get dehydrated,” Butler said. In a follow-up study, she will examine another group of these patients to see if they develop pneumonia or other health effects. If not, the result could be a welcome change in treatment recommendations. Studies like this are a fundamental aspect of the work of academic medical centers like Wake Forest Baptist, where the mission includes the charge to improve care.

From BestHealth, January 2010
A Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center publication

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Last Updated: 12-26-2013
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