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Johns Hopkins Bayview News - The Johns Hopkins Voice Center: Speaking Up

Fall 2013

The Johns Hopkins Voice Center: Speaking Up

By: Sara Baker
Date: October 7, 2013

Portrait of Alexander Hillel, M.D., laryngologist
Alexander Hillel, M.D., laryngologist

Chronic hoarseness occurs in up to 40 percent of people over the age of 65. It’s also a common result of overuse for people whose professions require a lot of speaking, such as teachers or politicians. But you don’t have to live with it. The multidisciplinary team at the Johns Hopkins Voice Center is able to correct hoarseness, difficult breathing, swallowing problems and chronic cough with a combination of voice therapy, minimally invasive procedures and medication.

“Surgery is the last resort,” says laryngologist Alexander Hillel, M.D. All patients who come into the Voice Center are seen by both a speech pathologist and a laryngologist, who collaborate with the patient to determine the best treatment options. Voice therapy alone can often be very effective in treating voice and swallowing problems. And simple lifestyle changes like switching to a low-acid diet can help with problems like chronic cough. “Two heads are always better than one,” says Dr. Hillel. “We are able to get to the bottom of what’s going on and what treatment will be best.”

Kirk Hall, a 78-year-old Chestertown, Maryland, resident, noticed his voice gradually becoming breathier over the past several years. “I would be out of breath by the time I finished a sentence,” he says. Hall made an appointment with Dr. Hillel, who diagnosed him with vocal fold atrophy, a common condition often associated with aging. Hall opted for a simple surgical procedure called injection laryngoplasty. Dr. Hillel numbed Hall’s throat, then passed a needle into his throat above the Adam’s apple to inject supportive material into his vocal cord. This helps increase the bulk of the vocal cord and improve the strength of the voice. Hall says he was a little sore for the first 24 hours, but noticed an instant improvement in the strength of his voice.

When surgery is the best option to correct a voice problem, laryngologists at the Voice Center are often able to do the procedure minimally invasively, as was the case for Hall. “Many procedures are done in 30 minutes in the clinic without general anesthesia,” says Dr. Hillel. “We can get you on your way and back to work quickly.”

To schedule an appointment at the Johns Hopkins Voice Center, call 443-997-6467. For more on the Voice Center, visit

Research Opportunity

Dr. Hillel is currently recruiting adult patients for a study about possible treatment options for laryngotracheal scars. If you have developed a scar in your airway that is limiting your breathing and are interested in participating in the study, call 410-955-1654.

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