Throat Stretching Procedure
What is a Throat Stretching Procedure?
The medical term for the throat stretching procedure is “throat dilatation” or “throat dilation”, and it literally is stretching the throat, or the esophagus. Watch this short and very simple explanation. The esophagus is the tube that goes from your throat to your stomach that you use to swallow. Don’t confuse the esophagus with the trachea. The trachea is what we often call the windpipe, which is the tube next to the esophagus and goes down from your mouth to your lungs.
Picture of throat anatomy from WebMD
The words “throat stretching” sound terrible, but generally the procedure isn’t as bad as it sounds! If you, or someone you know will need to have their throat stretched/dilated, let me try to put you at ease. Of course, as the doctors always tell us, there is always a risk in every surgery, so I can’t say there is never a problem! Most of the time, though, they go well. Honestly, it’s true. I’ve had it done many times. I thought if I shared my experience and explained more about how it’s done, maybe someone would find some comfort as they go through it.
Always talk to your doctor if you are having trouble swallowing or if there is any concern. Internet is a great tool, but it cannot take the place of your doctor.
Why Do a Throat Stretching Procedure?
Sometimes the throat stretching procedure (or throat dilation) is necessary after cancer, GERD, or because acid reflux has injured the esophagus. Sometimes there are other medical issues that affect the throat. Again, talk to your doctor if you suspect problems.
Mine had to be done due to the side effects of my cancer treatments. (At the end of this post I’ll have links to posts about more of my experience with my oral cancer.) Over time my esophagus just got tired. It had burned during the radiation treatments and over the years of me forcing it to work harder, it began to swell again. As my esophagus swelled, my swallowing got worse. I would eat or drink and then have a coughing spell. Many times very hard coughs that lasted a while. My ENT (Ear, nose, throat specialist) looked at my esophagus in her office. (Trans-nasal Esophagoscopy) I was awake, sitting up in the chair. They sprayed some nice numbing spray (Lidocaine) in my nasal cavity first. Then they inserted the tiny camera, or scope, into my nose and fed it down into my my esophagus. It wasn’t too bad. I can’t say that I didn’t feel anything, but it wasn’t really painful either. Just uncomfortable. Here’s a video of someone doing the same trans-nasal procedure: Trans-nasal Esophagoscopy
I got to watch the video as they did mine. It was kind of cool. I had been a vocal music major in college, so I had studied the vocal chords. It was interesting to actually see mine. My ENT knew my vocal study and was happy to explain everything to me. I was able to really understand what she was showing me and how my throat had been affected.
I have had many, many trans-nasal esophagoscopys done with a few different specialists. I will admit that a few of them did not use the Lidocaine spray first and the experience was quite a bit less comfortable! One rare bad experience I had was when one specialist ended up deciding we needed to try looking down past my vocal chords, but had not used the spray. That taught me to stop them and request the spray right away from then on. It also taught me that I liked my other specialist much better and did’t got back to this particular doctor.
My ENT recommended that I go back to my Gastroenterologist and ask about the throat dilation procedure. She wondered if that would help me swallow again.
A Gastroenterologist is someone who specializes in the study and treatment of the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, colon and rectum, pancreas, gallbladder, bile ducts and liver.
Follow this link for more information: What is a Gastroenterologist?
Checking Out My Esophagus
I have to put in a plug for Dr. James Piros, my Gastroenterologist. He is an amazing Dr. and a wonderful person! I always felt so calm under his care.
He checked everything out. He did an endoscopy first. The endoscopy is a procedure where the specialist puts a tiny camera down through the esophagus while watching a TV monitor to see how things look from the inside. This little camera is a bit bigger than the one they use in the trans-nasal procedure, and they put it down through your mouth. The nice part is that you do get to be sedated to make you very relaxed with this one. Dr. Piros always told me that I would be awake enough to be cooperative and able to help, but sedated enough that it wouldn’t hurt and I wouldn’t remember it. Here’s a video that does a nice job explaining and showing the Upper GI Endoscopy.
Other tests as well:
I also had a swallow study done with a radiologist and speech specialist, but I will address the swallow studies another time.
Throat Stretching Procedure Time
The throat stretching procedure itself was a breeze! The first of many to come. Dr. Piros actually did all of my dilations. It is a surgical procedure, so that meant I had to do the pre-surgery physical, and preparations. The hospital sent me a list of medications I should not take for two weeks prior to the surgery, such as aspirin, Ibuprofen, or other blood thinners.
They also sent information of what I should do the night before and morning of the surgery. As I had several of these dilations done, we learned that I had to make sure I drank as much water prior to the procedure as I possibly could get down so that my veins would cooperate for the IV I would be given. (My veins also got kind of shy after chemo treatments way back when. They went into hiding and proved to be very difficult for the nurses to find when trying to start the IV.) Being well hydrated helped my veins pop up better. I always appreciated the wonderful nurses and they worked so hard to make it easy on me! Tribute to Wonderful Doctors and Nurses.
Then Dr. Piros would always come meet with me and off we’d go to the operating room. He would talk to me about how swallowing was going, he’d explain what size he hoped to dilate my esophagus. He showed me the medical instruments he would be using, and then the nurse would put the medicine in my IV and I’d drift off to happy sleep. Completely oblivious.
I found this video of a doctor teaching part of an Endoscopy Course. You may not understand what is being said, but the video is great. It is pretty much the same way my dilations were done:
Teaching the Dilation
Here’s a video of a Balloon Dilation. This is not the type I had done, but it is another type of dilation.
After the Throat Stretching Procedure
Because of the sedation you receive during the procedure, you cannot leave the hospital alone. You need someone to at least take you home. I usually dozed on the way home while my husband drove. When we got home I was pretty much awake, but still rather hazy, so I just took it easy for the rest of the day.
The next day I would usually go back to work. My throat would be kind of scratchy and sore, sort of like having strep throat, for a day or so, but the dilations helped and I was able to swallow again for a while after each one. I got to the point that I needed a dilation every 4 months.
Eventually Dr. Piros told me the sad fact: my esophagus was getting too thin and he was afraid that doing more dilations would tear it. He was very kind as he told me that he could no longer dilate my esophagus. He advised that I use my G-PEG feeding tube for my sole source of intake of food and liquids.
It was with a heavy heart and many tears that I went on to the next step in my personal journey with the side effects of cancer. I am happy to report that I am doing just fine now, years later. I still miss eating real food sometimes, but I am doing OK. My G-PEG feeding tube is serving me well.
Thanks for Joining Me
I hope that reading through my experience can give you some knowledge and maybe some comfort if you or someone you know is going through some medical problems with their throat. I have a lot more information on other posts in this website. Please check them out and leave me some comments. I’d love to hear from you!
Here’s a few of the links:
I also have another site that is just for fun. It’s my Fun Drawing website. Check it out too. See you there!