Vocal Cord Paralysis

What is Vocal Cord Paralysis?

Vocal cord paralysis could affect an individual’s ability to breathe and speak.

This condition can be caused by viral infections, certain cancers, and nerve damage that happens during surgery.

Essentially, the nerve impulses to the voice box are disrupted, leading to paralysis of the vocal cord muscles.

What are the Symptoms of Vocal Cord Paralysis?

The swallowing and voice issues that can occur from vocal cord paralysis will depend upon the specific areas of the nerve damage.

However, common symptoms of vocal cord paralysis will include:

  • A breathy voice
  • Being unable to talk loudly
  • Hoarseness
  • Noisy breathing
  • Limited loudness and pitch variations
  • Coughing or choking when eating
  • Having to take a lot of breaths while talking
  • Frequently clearing the throat
  • Pneumonia that results from liquid or food being aspirated
  • Voicing for around 1 second at a time
  • Loss of the gag reflex

Vocal Cord Paralysis Causes

There are numerous causes of vocal cord paralysis. One is where different types of tumors grow close to the muscles or nerves of the voice box, causing inflammations that result into a vocal cord paralysis disease. A person affected by stroke has injuries in the section of the brain responsible for communication with the voice box. This causes imbalance which results into vocal cord paralysis.

Certain infectious diseases such as herpes and Lyme disease are also known to cause inflammations. These inflammations, if not detected early and treated, can result into vocal cord paralysis due to the interference with the voice box. People with some neurological conditions can easily contact vocal cord paralysis. Neurological conditions can create imbalance that endanger the voice box, hence resulting in vocal cord paralysis.

Injuries to the both neck and chest can be dangerous to a patient as it can result trauma that affects the voice box.

How is Vocal Cord Paralysis Treated?

The treatment for vocal cord paralysis will depend up what caused the condition, as well as when the symptoms occurred and how severe they are.

A patient may receive voice therapy, which is focused upon strengthening the vocal cords through exercises. These activities will also focus on improving control of the breath while speaking, and they can eliminate tension within the muscles surrounding the paralyzed vocal cord(s) to help with swallowing correctly. This might be the only treatment necessary.

Other treatment options include bulk injections, structural implants, tracheotomy, replacement of the damaged nerve, and vocal cord re-positioning.

Vocal Cord Paralysis Prevention

As the causes are not always related to environmental factors, for example developing a tumor, it is hard to prevent vocal cord paralysis. One possible preventative measure might be staying healthy by eating a balanced diet and getting enough regular exercise, to try and avoid infections.

While it might be less preventable, it is treatable. Before administering any treatment, understanding the causes and how vocal cord paralysis has grown is important. It’s also important that the patient explain how long they have had the problem.

There are two types of treatment: one is surgical, and one is non-surgical. Voice therapy involves using vocal exercises to help strength to the muscles of the voice box. Phonosurgery moves or changes the shape of the vocal folds to try and improve their ability to function. Voice therapy is usually the first choice, and later surgery might be considered, depending on how severe a person’s symptoms are, how badly positioned the vocal folds are and the cause of the paralysis.

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Last Reviewed:
October 11, 2016
Last Updated:
September 09, 2017