Recovery of laryngeal function after intraoperative injury to the recurrent laryngeal nerve
Loss of function in the recurrent laryngeal nerve (RLN) during thyroid/parathyroid surgery, despite a macroscopically intact nerve, is a challenge which highlights the sensitivity and complexity of laryngeal innervation. Furthermore, the uncertain prognosis stresses a lack of capability to diagnose the reason behind the impaired function. There is a great deal of literature considering risk factors, surgical technique and mechanisms outside the nerve affecting the incidence of RLN paresis during surgery. To be able to prognosticate recovery in cases of laryngeal dysfunction and voice changes after thyroid surgery, the surgeon would first need to define the presence, location, and type of laryngeal nerve injury. There is little data describing the events within the nerve and the neurobiological reasons for the impaired function related to potential recovery and prognosis. In addition, very little data has been presented in order to clarify any differences between the transient and permanent injury of the RLN. This review aims, from an anatomical and neurobiological perspective, to provide an update on the current understandings of surgically-induced injury to the laryngeal nerves.