Michael Lerner, MD, is a Yale Medicine ear, nose, throat doctor (laryngologist) who specializes in diagnosing and treating voice and swallowing disorders.
“When people experience a voice change or if it's uncomfortable to talk—or if others simply can't hear them—it can affect their ability to function in their personal lives and at work, which can cause them to suffer emotionally and even financially—sometimes, this can lead them to withdraw socially,” says Dr. Lerner. This can be true for people who have had strokes or have conditions like Parkinson’s disease, both of which can affect verbal communication, or for those who rely on their voices for their professions such as teachers, fitness instructors, and performers.
“For professional or performing-voice users, not being at their best can have serious career implications,” he says.
In the office, he tries to reproduce the issue they're having on stage, so he can see “what's limiting them and why are they hitting that ceiling,” Dr. Lerner says. “We’re going to take a look, produce a high-resolution video using stroboscopic light,” he says. The technology uses a strobe light synchronized to each patient’s unique vocal frequency to allow the doctor and patient to see the vocal cords vibrating in what appears to be slow motion.
Then, to correct voice issues, he uses minimally invasive procedures, which can involve a gentle “green light” KTP laser or botulinum toxin injections. On-site voice or speech therapy may help overuse or misuse injuries. “I really want patients to enjoy an under-one-roof model, where they can receive comprehensive care in one place,” says Dr. Lerner.
“Voice is so deeply connected to our sense of self and personal identity,” he says. “Think of your own voice and the voices of your loved ones—a parent, a child, a spouse—and all of the emotions that can evoke. That’s why I am so passionate about restoring this most human function of voice, restoring patients’ sense of identity, and restoring their ability to be heard in this world.”