Neurogenic Vocal Fold Motion Impairment After Routine Intubation for Tonsillectomy in a Pediatric Patient

Published:September 25, 2013DOI:



      Vocal fold motion impairment is a rare complication of general anesthesia and is more common in older patients undergoing longer duration of anesthesia. We present a case of recurrent laryngeal nerve (RLN) axonotmesis in a 16-year-old patient undergoing general anesthesia for tonsillectomy.

      Study Design

      Case report.


      The patient was intubated with a 6-0 oral RAE tube for routine tonsillectomy and was dysphonic postoperatively. Right vocal fold motion impairment was discovered on flexible laryngoscopy, and serial examinations with videostroboscopy were performed. She underwent laryngeal electromyography 3 months postoperatively.


      Initial videostroboscopy demonstrated findings consistent with right RLN injury. Laryngeal electromyography showed severe active denervation of the right thyroarytenoid muscle with signs of early reinnervation, consistent with axonotmesis. Complete recovery was achieved 4 months postoperatively.


      This case demonstrates RLN axonotmesis after brief routine intubation. The presumed mechanism of injury is compression of the nerve between the thyroid cartilage and the arytenoid or cricoid cartilage. The use of an oral RAE endotracheal tube may have contributed to the injury owing to the short distance between the bend of the tube and the cuff, placing the cuff at a higher level within the airway.

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