An ingenuous technique which reshape the throat area helps people who cannot swallow because of paralysis. Swallowing is a very complex operation, involving the co-ordinated action of various of the cranial nerves. One of these, the vagal nerve, controls the swallowing at the upper end of the digestive tract - that is, above the esophagus, but below the mouth. When this nerve is paralysed, aspiration of food down to the lungs, and swallowing difficulties may occur.
Surgeons at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York have tried out a new surgical procedure called 'hypopharyngeal pharyngoplasty' which remodels the affected part of the pharynx (the tube leading from the mouth to the esophagus). It can be done under local anaesthetic and only involves a simple incision to the throat.
Eight patients had the new treatment and, after surgery, seven of them had marked improvement in their ability to swallow, rapidly passing from tube to normal feeding, and six progressed to a normal diet. Their voices improved too - sounding less 'wet' and more natural. Evidently this is a promising approach for those with vagal nerve damage.