Ashford Clinic Blog
Vocal Cord Paralysis
Your vocal cords and voice box are very important. The vocal cords (or vocal folds) are involved in much more than simply producing sound, they play a role in protecting your airway and keeping you from choking by helping to keep food, drink, and saliva out of your trachea (or windpipe). Disorders of the voice can be very distressing, especially if you depend on your voice for your livelihood. There are many types of vocal injuries and disorders, but Vocal Cord Paralysis and Vocal Cord Paresis can have profound implications on your ability to speak and even breathe.
What is Vocal Cord Paralysis/Vocal Cord Paresis?
This disorder is the result of abnormal nerve input to the laryngeal (voice box) muscles. Paresis is a partial interruption of the nerve impulse, which results in weak or abnormal motion of these muscles. Paralysis is total interruption of nerve impulse, which results in no movement at all. Depending on how you use your voice, this could have a huge impact on your daily life. A mild vocal cord paresis could end a professional singer’s career or present a huge hurdle to anyone who speaks in public regularly, while it would have little to no effect on someone who does not rely on their voice for their occupation.
Causes & Symptoms
This disorder can be caused by inadvertent injury during surgery, complication from endotracheal intubation, blunt neck or chest trauma, viral infections, and tumors of the skull base, neck, and chest. Symptoms can include changes in the voice like hoarseness, extra effort on speaking, and breathy voice, airway problems including shortness of breath, noisy breathing, and ineffective cough, as well as swallowing problems like choking or coughing when swallowing. If you experience any change in your voice quality, contact a doctor immediately.
The primary treatment strategies for Vocal Cord Paralysis and Vocal Cord Paresis are voice therapy and phonosurgery, an operation that repositions and/or reshapes the vocal folds to improve voice function. Voice therapy is usually the first option pursued, with surgery becoming an option depending on the cause, severity, prognosis for recovery, and vocal needs of the patients, among other factors.