Preserving the Voice: Insights from Dr. Vaninder Dhillon on Thyroid Surgery and Ablation

Preserving the Voice: Insights from Dr. Vaninder Dhillon on Thyroid Surgery and Ablation

In a recent episode of the Doctor Thyroid and RFAMD podcasts, Dr. Vaninder Dhillon, an esteemed laryngologist and ENT surgeon from Johns Hopkins, highlighted the critical issue of voice and swallow risks associated with thyroidectomy and thyroid ablation.

SUBSCRIBE @DoctorThyroid

The interview sheds light on the importance of preserving the voice and offered insights into innovative approaches to avoid surgery.

Dr. Dhillon, who has extensive experience in both laryngology and endocrine head and neck surgery, underscored the significance of the voice and swallow outcomes in patients undergoing these procedures. Her research and clinical practice focus on improving outcomes and quality of life for patients who may face post-operative issues with their voice and swallow, as well as those with general voice and swallow complaints.

One of the most common complications after thyroid surgery is vocal cord paralysis, which can have a significant impact on a patient’s voice. While the overall percentage of patients experiencing voice issues after thyroidectomy varies, it can be as high as 30 to 50 percent, with temporary paralysis affecting up to 15 percent. Although permanent paralysis is rarer (1-2 percent), it remains a concern for patients.

During the interview, Dr. Dhillon emphasized the importance of differentiating between voice and swallowing outcomes, as the latter is often overlooked. Swallowing complaints are higher than voice complaints, with some studies showing up to 60 percent of patients experiencing temporary swallowing issues post-operatively.

Voice and swallow assessments are crucial before and after surgery. Dr. Dhillon stressed the need for a comprehensive evaluation, including endoscopy and video stroboscopy, to examine the larynx more closely during speech. These assessments help in identifying potential issues with the recurrent laryngeal nerve and the superior laryngeal nerve.

Dr. Dhillon’s team has implemented voice and swallow tests before surgery, and they continue to monitor patients post-operatively to ensure any issues are addressed promptly. This proactive approach helps patients feel more confident and informed about the potential risks to their voice and swallow function.

The conversation also discussed the rise of radiofrequency ablation (RFA) as an alternative to surgery. RFA is a minimally invasive technology for treating thyroid nodules and thyroid cancers. While RFA has a lower risk of voice and swallow complications than surgery, Dr. Dhillon stressed the importance of a thorough pre-RFA laryngeal exam to ensure optimal outcomes.

However, Dr. Dhillon acknowledged that more research is needed to fully understand the potential voice and swallow risks associated with RFA. Standardized protocols and patient-reported outcomes can be vital in evaluating these risks and ensuring patient safety during the procedure.

Dr. Vaninder Dhillon highlighted the importance of safeguarding the voice and swallow function in thyroid surgery and ablation. By proactively evaluating and addressing potential complications, patients can make informed decisions and seek appropriate interventions to protect their vocal and swallowing abilities. The ongoing research and innovative approaches in this field offer hope for improved outcomes and a better quality of life for those affected by thyroid conditions.


About Dr. Vaninder Dhillon

Assistant Professor of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery

Vaninder “Vinny” K. Dhillon, M.D., is an assistant professor of otolaryngology – head and neck surgery at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, specializing in both children and adults. She practices out of Johns Hopkins Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery in Bethesda, Maryland. Dr. Dhillon is also affiliated with Johns Hopkins Hospital and Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland, as well as Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, D.C.

Dr. Dhillon has an expertise in endocrine surgery, laryngology, otolaryngology, parathyroid diseases and surgery, swallowing disorders, thyroid diseases and surgery, and voice problems.

Dr. Dhillon earned her medical degree from Keck School of Medicine of University of Southern California. She completed a residency in otolaryngology at Los Angeles County and University of Southern California Medical Center.

View Full Profile:

About Philip James

As the host of the popular RFAMD and Doctor Thyroid podcasts, Philip James remains committed to sharing inspiring stories, valuable insights, and groundbreaking discoveries in the world of healthcare, making a positive impact on the lives of countless listeners.

Philip’s thought-provoking interviews have covered a wide range of healthcare topics, from cutting-edge technologies and surgical advancements to patient experiences and the impact of medical research on society.


RFAMD is solely dedicated to helping healthcare organizations build deeper, enduring relationships with patients. Our team brings together expertise and insights to create enterprise-wide solutions that transform the patient experience.

With years of experience in understanding the patient’s journey, we can help healthcare organizations thrive in today’s patient-centered healthcare market. Our range of solutions includes smart, measurable patient acquisition programs, physician marketing touch-points that drive referrals into priority service lines, and credible, easy-to-digest content at the point of care and beyond, in patients’ preferred formats and languages.

We also provide brand strategies that increase patient preference and physician referrals and differentiate your brand in the market through reputation-building tools.

Our commitment is to enable providers and payers to deliver personalized care by activating, educating, and motivating patients to prioritize their health every day. As your strategic partner, we combine our unique capabilities and industry expertise to better engage patients at every step of their health journey.

Our goal is to help healthcare organizations achieve stronger patient and member outcomes, sustained improvements in brand reputation, measurable gains in market share, and increased revenue.

Content on the RFAMD and Doctor Thyroid with Philip James websites and podcasts is for informational purposes only and not a substitute for professional medical advice. See our full Legal Disclaimer for details.