Presentation of ALS to the otolaryngologist/head and neck surgeon: Getting to the neurologist

Allen Hillel, Todd Dray, Robert Miller, Kathryn Yorkston, Nancy Konikow, Edythe Strande, Judith Browne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Patients with early symptoms of bulbar amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) are usually referred to the otolaryngologist without a diagnosis. Careful examination of the speech quality and a physical exam, including the vocal cords, should be undertaken. The emotional state of the patient should be considered, and a diagnosis should not be offered before a neurologic consultation has been obtained. Patients with late symptoms of bulbar ALS almost always present with both significant speech and swallowing abnormalities. Evaluation can be difficult because many abnormalities are found on examination. Advanced progression of symptoms is a clear indication for rapid referral to a neurologist if a diagnosis has not already been made. Supportive and symptomatic care should be offered to the patient immediately. The University of Washington Neuromuscular Clinic for Speech and Swallowing Disorders has seen 600 new neurologic patients since 1986, 211 of whom were ALS patients. The introduction of percutaneous gastrostomy has greatly changed the management of ALS patients, and 75 patients have undergone this procedure (32% because of inadequate swallowing, 68% for declining vital capacity). Medical management to improve symptoms may be indicated before surgery. Surgical options for patients with late salivary presentation are uncommon and include removal of the submaxillary glands, tracheostomy, and laryngeal or salivary diversion procedures. Laryngectomy or laryngeal diversion procedures are only very rarely indicated. Although tracheostomy usually interferes with swallowing and worsens aspiration, it may rarely be indicated in patients with late airway presentation for glottic narrowing or artificial respiratory support. Symptomatic management of patients with bulbar ALS is usually best undertaken by a multidisciplinary clinic that can provide a physically and psychologically supportive environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)S22-S25
Issue number8 SUPPL.
StatePublished - 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology


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