Jeffrey R. Carlson, MD
The title of this article is a question that was asked recently by a patient over our webchat line that I thought would make a fantastic topic for discussion. I often hear this complaint from my patients as I am a spine surgeon and the requirements for spine surgery anesthesia are different from other orthopaedic surgeries. If the patient is having surgery on their cervical (neck) spine, that will also play a role in post-surgical soreness of the throat. In this article, I hope to help clear up some of the confusion surrounding why this occurs.
During surgery, the anesthesiologist is responsible for making sure that the patient doesn’t feel discomfort during their procedure and providing the physician with a patient with varying levels of consciousness, while also not giving them such massive amounts of drugs that they don’t wake up afterwards. There is a great deal of science that goes into what drugs are administered for what types of surgery, how long the patient needs to remain under anesthesia, whether the patient needs to be fully paralyzed or not for their procedure…there is a long list of considerations that will predicate how the patient will receive anesthesia.
For spine surgery, it is very important that the patient be fully paralyzed while I work extremely close to the spinal cord and spinal nerves that could easily be damaged with the smallest unplanned movement. When the patient is to be fully paralyzed with drugs, the anesthesiologist must place the patient on a ventilator to take over their breathing functions during surgery. This requires that the patient be intubated (having an airway tube inserted down their throat into the windpipe) to allow the ventilator to get air in and out of the patient’s lungs. It is this intubation that can cause a sore throat for the patient, but it is typically temporary and goes away within a day or two.
For patients who are having surgery on their cervical spine, I may also have to physically move their windpipe to access the structures of the spine which need to be repaired. This can cause longer lasting discomfort, hoarseness, coughing, and a feeling of needing to clear one’s throat. While this typically resolves over time, it may take a while and may be concerning to the patient. Any patient who is a professional singer, speaker or who needs their voice for work should consult with me before surgery on the best approach to prevent voice or hoarseness problems from occurring.
If you have cervical spine surgery, you will be intubated and often your windpipe will have been moved intra-operatively, so chances are good you will have a sore throat when you wake up from surgery. Using Tylenol, Chloraseptic® throat spray or lozenges, ice chips, and all the ice cream you want, can get you on the road to feeling better fast.
Make an appointment with Dr. Carlson or another orthopaedic spine specialist by calling our office at (757) 596-1900 or completing the form by clicking the button below. Our office is located in Newport News, VA. We are 40 minutes from Virginia Beach and an hour from Richmond, VA.