Professional Spotlight | Dr. Omid Mehdizadeh: Voice & Swallow Advocate
by Amelia Garrison
Did you know that some swallowing problems can be caused by a medical condition? PNI expert Dr. Omid Mehdizadeh treats both voice and swallowing dysfunction.
When swallowing becomes a problem
Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia) can become a chronic issue that affects anyone, but is often experienced by older adults.
“You don’t have to live with the stigma, shame, or poor quality of life that your swallowing may be causing you,” says Omid Mehdizadeh, MD, an Otolaryngologist and Head & Neck (ENT) surgeon at Pacific Neuroscience Institute (PNI). “One of my missions is to highlight that there are treatment options for these conditions so they don’t remain status quo, and patients can experience restored quality of life.”
A voice and swallow expert, Dr. Mehdizadeh’s background in Otolaryngology and Gastroenterology is a perfect blend of knowledge and experience. He treats patients with voice, airway, esophageal, and swallowing dysfunctions at PNI’s Pacific, Eye, Ear & Skull Base Center in Santa Monica, and Pacific Head & Neck Center in West Los Angeles, California.
“One of my missions is to highlight that there are treatment options for these conditions so they don’t remain status quo, and patients can experience restored quality of life.”
“Swallowing problems can be debilitating and distressing, and I would like to bring awareness to the general population that people like me exist,” says Dr. Mehdizadeh. ”For example,” he continues, “choking at the dinner table causes embarrassment, concern, and difficulty for patients, and people don’t know that they can seek out a specialist to help with their swallow disorders.”
Treating swallowing conditions
There are many symptoms of dysphagia, such as pain, inability to swallow, cough, or feeling a gagging sensation.
“I saw that there was a need for more swallow specialists,” says Dr. Mehdizadeh. “I think that a unique skill set, expertise, and understanding of the entire swallowing tract allows me to provide a highly specialized level of care to my patients. And there is a lot of collaboration. Our clinic is set up with many experts in other areas of ENT care so a patient can get comprehensive treatment all under one roof,” Dr. Mehdizadeh explains.
Scoping out a swallow problem
Dr. Mehdizadeh routinely performs transnasal esophagoscopy (TNE), an endoscopic procedure used to examine the throat, esophagus, and stomach, to identify the cause of swallow dysfunction in his patients.
It is easy to see that Dr. Mehdizadeh invests in his patients and their well-being. He draws on his wide range of experience to provide the appropriate treatments for each one.
Treating voice disorders
In addition to treating swallowing dysfunction, Dr. Mehdizadeh regularly sees patients who have injured or overstressed their vocal cords, many of whom depend upon their voice in their professional careers, such as lawyers, teachers, or singers.
“Sometimes voice problems can actually cause swallowing issues, so these two areas of voice and swallow are closely linked,” says Dr. Mehdizadeh.
There are two vocal cords which are bands of flexible muscle covered by a ligament and membrane, which sit within the voice box (larynx). Airflow through them is what produces sound. Many patients with voice issues, he explains, have either injured one or both of their vocal cords due to a variety of reasons or have developed nodules, which are essentially callouses on the vocal cord, he says.
“By the time patients come to see me, their condition may be fairly severe,” the doctor explains. “And their voice complaints could have been caused by a wide range of factors. Of course, aging is a common reason, but there are other wide-ranging causes – anything from smoking, acid reflux, screaming, or alcohol use, to allergies or clearing the throat incorrectly.”
Voice therapy as a treatment option
Dr. Mehdizadeh’s first approach to treating voice issues is integrating voice therapy. “We try to take the least invasive approaches possible, so we always try to integrate a voice therapy program first to see if whatever pathology or issue patients are experiencing can be resolved without surgery.”
The next step – minimally invasive surgery for voice disorders
“If voice therapy is generally unsuccessful, then we do proceed with minimally invasive surgeries on the vocal cord,” explains Dr. Mehdizadeh. “These typically include either lasers to remove lesions, or we perform a microflap surgery, to dissect and remove the offending lesions and preserve normal vocal cord structure and function. Given the delicate nature of the vocal cords, these surgeries are routinely performed using a microscope.”
Dr. Mehdizadeh is gratified that the vast majority of his patients report superior benefits due to his care.
Voice and swallow research for neurological patients
Currently, Dr. Mehdizadeh is researching esophageal problems in patients with neurologic conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, ALS, and myasthenia gravis. He works with PNI’s expert team of neurologists and neurosurgeons to understand how neurologic disease affects the esophagus and swallowing. These experts include MS specialist Dr. Barbara Giesser, Movement Disorders Specialist Dr. Melita Petrossian, and Neurosurgeons Dr. Daniel Kelly and Dr. Garni Barkhoudarian, among others.
“PNI has offered me the opportunity to interact with high-level experts in neurology and neurosurgery,” he says. “My research goals are to highlight, elucidate and study swallow dysfunction and mechanisms of swallow dysfunction in neurologic patients. Similarly, in those patients, I want to describe and study voice dysfunction, and why these patients develop changes in their voice, and what we can do to help them.”
The making of a voice and swallow specialist
At PNI, Dr. Mehdizadeh believes that his ability to connect with patients from many diverse backgrounds stems from his own varied experiences.
At the age of one, Dr. Mehdizadeh immigrated with his parents from Iran to the United States. After attending a modern Orthodox Jewish school in Los Angeles, he moved to Berkeley, California, for his undergraduate degree.
Dr. Mehdizadeh aspired to become a surgeon early on. “I was always interested in the delicate nature of procedures. I was curious about the technical aspects of things,” he explains.
Before joining medical school, Dr. Mehdizadeh researched proteins that regulate hunger and satiety at the University of California, Los Angeles, and while at the University of California, Davis medical school, he studied with the internationally renowned swallow expert Dr. Peter Belafsky.
After graduating, Dr. Mehdizadeh received medical training from New York University, Manhattan. He was then awarded a fellowship at the University of California, Davis. Now, as an Otolaryngologist and Head & Neck (ENT) surgeon on PNI’s expert team, he utilizes this extensive experience every day.
“What drew me specifically to ENT was just how precise the surgeries are,” he says. “We work under a microscope in 1- to 2-millimeter spaces in the ear, nose, and voice box. These are very fine structures. I find it fascinating that those small structures allow us to experience the world, through taste, hearing, and smell, and also how these fine anatomical structures allow us to communicate with the world, through our voice.”
Voice & Swallow Clinic: 310-829-8701
About Dr. Omid Mehdizadeh
Dr. Omid Mehdizadeh, is an Otolaryngology, and Head & Neck (ENT) surgeon. Working with colleagues in the Pacific Eye, Ear & Skull Base Center at Pacific Neuroscience Institute, his particular expertise is in voice, swallowing, and throat conditions (laryngology). Dr. Mehdizadeh has presented at international conferences and has received multiple recognitions for his work. Throughout his medical career, Dr. Mehdizadeh has focused his time educating medical and undergraduate students and by providing medical care to disenfranchised populations through community clinics.
About the Author
Amelia is the Coordinator of Marketing & Communications at Pacific Neuroscience Insitute (PNI). She leads the PNI blog, newsletter, and digital communications.
Last updated: November 19th, 2021