The Latest in Plastic Surgery: the 'Voice-Lift'

ByABC News via logo
April 21, 2004, 7:23 PM

April 22 -- The latest luxury for aging baby boomers looking for the fountain of youth is the so-called "voice-lift," designed to make patients' voices sound more youthful.

In the past, doctors have mostly performed vocal chord surgery on people with voice-robbing diseases or injury. Now cosmetic surgery for the voice the voice lift is becoming more widely known among an aging population, dismayed to notice hoarseness that makes them sound older creeping into their voices.

Professionals who use their voices including performers, lawyers and telephone operators are seeking out the procedure, hoping to shave years off the sound of their voice.

But doctors are warning against doing cosmetic surgery on normal, but aging, vocal cords.

There are two general kinds of voice lifts: In some cases, implants inserted through an incision in the neck bring the vocal cords closer together. Doctors also use injections of fat, collagen or other substances to plump up the cords and make them more limber, so that the voice sounds younger.

There are risks to the procedures, experts say.

"It is not that uncommon in an attempt to actually bring the vocal folds together that they become over-closed," said Dr. Steven Zeitels, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and a laryngologist at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in Boston. "You can make the voice worse, and we've all seen cases in which that can occur."

A Raspy, Hoarse Voice

By the time Bob Anzidei reached 66, he found himself struggling to speak. Now 75, the retired construction superintendent underwent voice lift surgery several years ago.

"When I spoke, many times the person I was speaking to would not hear me as clear as they should," Anzidei said. "I had to repeat myself because it was very raspy and hoarse."

To produce sound, the vocal cords must meet each other at a rate of between 120 and 220 times a minute, and that high level of usage takes its toll. Unlike skin, the surface of vocal cords don't sag as we age they get stiffer.