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Vocal Cord Paralysis
Vocal cord paralysis is a condition in which your vocal cords do not open and close as they should.
Your vocal cords (also called vocal folds) are stretchy bands of muscle in the part of your throat called the larynx (or voice box). When air moves between them, it causes them to vibrate. This vibration creates the sound of your voice. When you are not speaking, your vocal cords rest in an open position.
Symptoms of vocal cord paralysis may be minor or severe.
Vocal cord paralysis in one vocal cord is fairly common. It is rare for both vocal cords to be affected. When this does happen, your air passage can be blocked by the open folds. This makes it very hard for you to breathe.
Causes of vocal cord paralysis include:
Diagnosis usually requires a visit to an otolaryngologist (a doctor who specializes in the ear, nose and throat). He or she gathers information about symptoms, observes the sounds of the voice, and looks into the throat using a lighted tube called an endoscope. In some cases, a speech-language pathologist is involved in diagnosis and assessment.
Symptoms can include:
- Difficulty swallowing due to food or drink getting into the lungs
- Abnormal changes in voice, such as loss of volume or pitch
- Strained speech
- Soreness in the throat
- Hoarse or breathy voice
Sometimes, vocal cord paralysis goes away on its own within a year of symptoms appearing. Other cases require surgery. Doctors usually wait a year to see if the condition will go away before recommending surgery. During that time, a speech-language pathologist can offer voice therapy.
In voice therapy, you do exercises to improve your control over the vocal cords and your speech. You also learn ways to speak more clearly despite having vocal cord paralysis.
Surgical treatment can involve adding bulk to the vocal cord, moving the vocal cord, or re-routing your breathing path through a tracheotomy. Following surgery, more voice therapy may be necessary.