Patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) may be at increased risk of aspiration secondary to impaired swallow function. One possible cause of this impairment is a reduction in laryngopharyngeal sensitivity. The relationship between COPD and laryngopharyngeal sensitivity has not been previously determined. We conducted a study to investigate the effect of COPD on laryngopharyngeal sensitivity by using laryngopharyngeal sensory discrimination testing (LPSDT). Our study population was made up of 20 adults (mean age: 71.7 yr) with clinically proven COPD and 11 healthy, age-matched controls. All 31 subjects underwent LPSDT with the use of an air-pulse stimulator via a nasendoscope. The threshold of laryngopharyngeal sensation was evaluated by measuring the amount of air pressure required to elicit the laryngeal adductor reflex (LAR). We found that the patients with COPD had a significantly higher LAR threshold than did the controls (p< 0.001). We conclude that patients with COPD have significantly less mechanosensitivity in the laryngopharynx. This sensory change may place patients with COPD at increased risk for aspiration.
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