What is Vocal Cord Paralysis?

Your vocal cords, also called vocal folds, are two small bands of flexible muscle within your windpipe that help you speak, swallow, breathe, and prevent food, drink, and saliva from entering your windpipe. When the nerve impulses going to your voice box or larynx are interrupted for some reason, you can suffer from a condition known as vocal cord paralysis.

Vocal Cord Paralysis Causes

This condition is typically the result of some other medical condition or injury, potentially including the following:

  • Stroke or neurological condition
  • Malignant or benign tumors
  • Inflammation in or around the vocal cords
  • Injury or trauma to the chest or neck area, potentially during surgery for other conditions
  • Infections such as Epstein-Barr virus, Lyme disease, or herpes

Vocal Cord Paralysis Symptoms and Diagnosis

If you have this condition, you may experience the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty forming sounds
  • Difficulty breathing and swallowing
  • Feeling the urge to clear your throat often
  • Noisy or loud breathing
  • Often coughing or choking after swallowing
  • Feeling out of breath when speaking
  • Hoarse voice
  • Difficulty speaking at a high volume

Diagnosing vocal cord paralysis involves your ENT specialist reviewing your symptoms and medical history, listening to your voice, examining your vocal cords, and potentially performing testing to further diagnose you.

Treatments for Vocal Cord Paralysis

Specific treatments for vocal cord paralysis will vary depending on the symptoms and the root cause. In general, treatment for vocal cord paralysis will involve therapy, injections, or surgery.

Voice therapy for vocal cord paralysis attempts to improve your use of and strengthen your vocal cords. It is possible that only voice therapy is needed to ensure you can sufficiently use your vocal cords.

Surgery options can include the following:

  • Bulk injections which add volume to the paralyzed vocal cord, allowing the functioning vocal cord to more easily come into contact with the vocal cord that's paralyzed
  • Surgery to physically reposition the paralyzed vocal cord
  • Replacement of the damaged nerve with a healthy nerve
  • Implants to reposition the paralyzed vocal cord
  • Tracheotomy to widen the opening, allowing for easier breathing

All information provided on this website is for information purposes only. Please see a healthcare professional for medical advice. If you are seeking this information in an emergency situation, please call 911 and seek emergency help.

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