These vocal cords, also known as vocal folds, play a vital role in not only producing sound but also safeguarding your airway from foreign substances. This paralysis can hinder your ability to speak and even breathe properly. While most cases involve the paralysis of a single vocal cord, when both cords are affected, it can result in significant breathing and swallowing difficulties.

Recognizing symptoms of vocal cord paralysis

Symptoms of vocal cord paralysis can manifest as:

  • Breathy vocal quality
  • Hoarseness
  • Noisy breathing
  • Loss of vocal pitch
  • Choking or coughing while swallowing
  • Frequent breaths are needed during speech
  • Inability to speak loudly
  • Loss of gag reflex
  • Ineffective coughing

If you experience unexplained, persistent hoarseness lasting more than three or four weeks or notice any unexplained voice changes or discomfort, consult an experienced ENT. 

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What are the causes of vocal cord paralysis?

The causes of vocal cord paralysis can vary and may include:

  • Injury to the vocal cord during surgery, especially in procedures involving the neck or upper chest.
  • Trauma to the neck or chest.
  • Stroke, which may damage the part of your brain sending messages to the voice box.
  • Tumors, whether cancerous or non-cancerous, growing near the vocal cord muscles, cartilage, or nerves.
  • Inflammation due to conditions like arthritis or surgery leading to scarring in vocal cord joints or the space between cartilages.
  • Neurological conditions like multiple sclerosis or Parkinson's disease, which can cause vocal cord weakness or paralysis.

Risk factors for vocal cord paralysis

Factors that may increase your risk of developing vocal cord paralysis include:

  • Undergoing throat or chest surgery, especially thyroid, throat, or upper chest procedures.
  • Having neurological conditions like Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, or myasthenia gravis, which may cause vocal cord weakness or paralysis.
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How is vocal cord paralysis diagnosed?

To further evaluate your voice problems, the following tests may be performed:

  • Endoscopy, which allows your doctor to view your vocal cords directly.
  • Laryngeal electromyography is a test measuring the electric currents in your voice box muscles.
  • Blood tests and scans to identify the cause of the paralysis.

Treatments and drugs

Treatment of vocal cord paralysis depends on the cause, severity of symptoms, and the time from the onset of symptoms. Treatment may include voice therapy, surgery, or both. In some instances, you may get better without surgical treatment. For this reason, your doctor may delay surgery for six months to a year from the beginning of your vocal cord paralysis. During this waiting period, your doctor may suggest voice therapy to help keep you from using your voice improperly while the nerves heal.

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Voice therapy 

Voice therapy sessions involve exercises or other activities to strengthen your vocal cords, improve breath control during speech, prevent abnormal tensions in other muscles around the paralyzed vocal cord, and protect your airway during swallowing.

Surgical treatment for vocal cord paralysis

If your vocal cord paralysis symptoms don't fully recover on their own, surgical treatments may be offered to improve your ability to speak and swallow. Surgical options include:

Bulk injection

Paralysis of the nerve to your vocal cord will leave the vocal cord muscle thin and weak. To add bulk to a paralyzed vocal cord, the laryngologist may inject your vocal cord with a substance such as body fat, collagen, or another approved filler.

Vocal cord repositioning

In this procedure, a surgeon moves a window of your tissue from the outside of your voice box inward, pushing the paralyzed vocal cord toward the middle of your voice box. This allows your unimpaired vocal cord to vibrate better against its paralyzed partner.

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Why choose us for vocal cord paralysis care?

As a leading, nationally recognized network of over 25 ENT specialists, we provide comprehensive care, focusing on symptom management and enhancing the quality of life. Our patient-first philosophy means we invest time in understanding your needs and empowering you with the knowledge and resources needed to take charge of your health.

With multiple locations across Louisiana, our commitment to providing on-time appointments ensures prompt attention. Whether you need voice therapy or surgical interventions, you can trust our top-rated physician network of fellowship-trained and board-certified physicians. Choosing us for vocal cord paralysis treatment means choosing compassionate, individualized, and comprehensive care from a top-rated provider.

With 6 convenient locations around the Louisiana area, we're never far away.

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