Man receiving an examination on his throat.

Vocal cord paralysis (or “vocal fold paralysis”) is a common disorder that impairs the ability to speak or breathe. It occurs when one or both vocal cords does not open or close properly, causing symptoms such as hoarseness, shortness of breath and trouble swallowing food. 

Is vocal cord paralysis serious?

Vocal cord paralysis can affect one or both vocal cords. Your vocal cords are located at the entrance to your trachea (windpipe). They come together when you speak, vibrating to make sounds. When you are not speaking, they are in an open position, allowing you to breathe easily. Vocal cord paralysis typically only affects one vocal cord. In rare cases, both vocal cords may be paralyzed. This is a serious condition, as it can cause significant problems with breathing. In most cases a single vocal cord is paralyzed, a condition that can be successfully treated.

What are the symptoms?

Vocal cord paralysis is usually caused by injury to the nerve that controls the muscles in your larynx. This injury could be the result of viral infections, nerve damage during surgery, an accident or other impact, autoimmune diseases, or certain types of tumors. Vocal cord paralysis causes symptoms such as: 

  • A hoarse or breathy voice
  • Swallowing problems (food may accidentally be entering your windpipe instead of your esophagus, causing coughing or choking).
  • Trouble breathing or shortness of breath
  • Difficulty speaking loudly
  • Changes in your voice – it may be higher or lower than it was before, and you may hear a gurgling sound.
  • Frequent throat clearing and a weak cough

How do I know if I have vocal cord paralysis?

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of vocal cord paralysis, an otolaryngologist can help diagnose the condition. By asking you about your symptoms, listening to your voice and looking at your vocal folds using an endoscope, the condition can be identified correctly. We invite you to schedule an appointment at South Florida ENT Associates if you are suffering from symptoms of vocal cord paralysis and need a professional diagnosis and treatment.

Is there any treatment for vocal cord paralysis?

In some cases, vocal cord paralysis resolves on its own within a year. Your ENT may suggest voice therapy to strengthen your vocal cords as part of your treatment plan. With specific vocal exercises, you can help restore nerve communication in the region, and improve breath control. If your vocal cord paralysis does not resolve on its own, treatment options include:

  • Surgery: Laryngoplasty is a surgical procedure that moves your paralyzed vocal cord closer to your moving vocal cord. If both your vocal cords are paralyzed, other surgical options are available to help you breathe properly. 
  • Injection: With a special kind of injection, your doctor can make your paralyzed vocal cord bulkier, moving it closer to your moving vocal cord. This can alleviate your symptoms for a few months to give the area time time to heal, while treating the symptoms.

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