Breathing Issues For Head & Neck Patients-Be Aware-Help-Informational-My Story

wbcgaruss Member Posts: 2,323 Member
edited May 2023 in Head and Neck Cancer #1

Breathing Issues Head & Neck Patients Help & Solution Informational-My Story

Since I have had radiation twice around the H&N area and a lymph node operation left side which has resulted in some muscle and tissue loss to remove all the cancer it also affects the area around all the functions of the H&N area. And we all know that can be a problem at times. And in fact, I have paralyzed vocal cords that do not move as they should probably due to a cut nerve from the operation which affects my breathing.

Anytime an H&N patient encounters swelling in the H&N area it can have an impact on all functions in the area, affecting breathing, swallowing, movement, speech, etc. Of course, the more treatment we had, or recurrent episodes of cancer and treatment, or the more harsher or radical our treatment was the more effect there will easily be noticed. Any function already compromised and not working normally as it should is affected by even small changes.

I was seeing a speech therapist from the teaching hospital after my last hospital stay as part of the follow-up since my swallow test was less than perfect. She noted my breathing was less than optimal and told me that if I get any swelling in the area it could restrict the area and breathing all the more. A situation like a bad cold, the flu, a sinus infection, etc. She said to be aware that I should take a course of Prednisone if anything like that should occur to reduce swelling so that my breathing would not be much worse.

She gave me a note stating my estimated vocal cord opening and what should be done.

My vocal cord condition:

Bilateral vocal fold scarring, Glottic stenosis, and

Bilateral vocal fold paralysis


Steroids with an upper respiratory infection (cold)


If I get an upper respiratory infection I should go to

my primary care doctor and get Steroids. (Cold)

This is to keep the swelling down in my vocal cord area.

So I immediately told all my doctors I see such as the family doctor about this, even the dentist so they are aware of my situation and have it on file. Steroids with an upper respiratory infection (cold)


If I get an upper respiratory infection I should go to

my primary care doctor and get Steroids. (Cold)

This is to keep the swelling down in my vocal cord area.

I just did not think I would ever need to do this but this past early winter I got a bad sinus infection and finally went to the doctors when it wouldn’t get better with OTC meds and what I could do at home. I also had difficulty breathing from the swelling of the infection just as she predicted.

I was given 10-day antibiotics and prednisone course of treatment and after taking the prednisone it wasn’t long that I could breathe much better again. I was so thankful. But I couldn’t get rid of the sinus infection without another round of antibiotics, then it was finally gone.

Fast forward to a little over a week ago I had not been feeling up to par for several weeks but not really bad, but then started having problems breathing in the morning until I got up and got moving and it improved during the day.

Each day it seemed to get a little worse but I had no major issues going on except possibly just a bit of sinus problem going on but nothing like the one that I was expecting would be needed to cause a problem of breathing like I had before and nothing standing out to cause a breathing problem that I could say yes here is the problem. So I keep a dose of prednisone on hand at home now at all times and decided to try taking them just to see if it would help. Lo and behold a couple of hours after taking the first pill I could start to feel improvement in my breathing so I must have had a swelling issue going on and as the day went on my breathing just kept getting better. Prednisone is taken 2 times a day so I had 2 pills that day and when I got up the next morning I was 100% better. I was back to my new normal for breathing and was not working to breathe anymore.

I tell you all this to tell you if you are a H&N cancer patient that does or may have a compromised breathing situation talk to your doctor about this and ask them about your situation and if this is something you should consider in light of your situation. You may also want to keep Prednisone for swelling on hand but get your doctor's opinion on your personal case because we are all a little different in relation to our cancer and treatments. Besides that you need a prescription for it so plan ahead.

Also, I want to make everyone aware this is a generally temporary solution to another problem that is causing a breathing issue. Such as a bad sinus infection, the flu, etc. Even though you may take Prednisone to relieve your breathing problem temporarily, you need to address any underlying problems that caused your breathing issue in the first place and may still exist.

But I emphasize I am not giving medical advice but making everyone aware of a situation that can occur in H&N patients especially due to radiation fibrosis, surgeries, etc.

See your care team about your particular case to see if this would apply to you, it has been a blessing to me to breathe better again rather quickly by taking a medication.

I have thanked my speech therapist for sure for being on top of things and giving me a heads up on possible breathing problems and the solution to it. I am Blessed to be surrounded by good medical folks that take such good care of me.

Sorry this was so long but I wanted to explain it well and I hope it is an alert or aid to someone.

Take Care, God Bless-Russ


  • jim108
    jim108 Member Posts: 33 Member

    Russ, Thanks for this info. On one hand it's another thing I can worry about (or not) and on the other it's good info to have in case something like this the blood pressure info you told us about.

    I'm glad you are recovering well.


  • wbcgaruss
    wbcgaruss Member Posts: 2,323 Member

    Jim, thanks for your response. Like you said worry or not. I say don't worry but use the information you get to prepare yourself and to use it if needed. Enjoy life and deal with things as they come one at a time.

    Take care, Jim, God Bless