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Keywords:

  • Dysphagia;
  • true vocal fold paralysis;
  • swallowing;
  • aspiration;
  • therapy

Abstract

Objectives/Hypothesis: Closure of the true and false vocal folds is a normal part of airway protection during swallowing. Individuals with reduced or delayed true vocal fold closure can be at risk for aspiration and may benefit from intervention to ameliorate the problem. Surface electrical stimulation is currently used during therapy for dysphagia, despite limited knowledge of its physiological effects.

Design: Prospective single effects study.

Methods: The immediate physiological effect of surface stimulation on true vocal fold angle was examined at rest in 27 healthy adults using 10 different electrode placements on the submental and neck regions. Fiberoptic nasolaryngoscopic recordings during passive inspiration were used to measure change in true vocal fold angle with stimulation.

Results: Vocal fold angles changed only to a small extent during two electrode placements (P ≤ .05). When two sets of electrodes were placed vertically on the neck, the mean true vocal fold abduction was 2.4 degrees; while horizontal placements of electrodes in the submental region produced a mean adduction of 2.8 degrees (P = .03).

Conclusions: Surface electrical stimulation to the submental and neck regions does not produce immediate true vocal fold adduction adequate for airway protection during swallowing, and one position may produce a slight increase in true vocal fold opening.