When the vocal cords do not open or close, this is called vocal cord paralysis. The term ‘vocal’ refers to the voice, and ‘paralysis’ means that the cords cannot move. This condition can affect anyone but is more common in older adults.
The vocal cords are a pair of muscles in the voice box (larynx) that open and close to allow air to pass over the voice box and produce sound. Vocal cord paralysis refers to a weakness or inability to move one or both vocal cords. It can happen at any age and either suddenly or overtime.
The cause of vocal cord paralysis can vary and may include:
The symptoms of vocal cord paralysis depend on how severe your condition is. The main symptom of vocal cord paralysis is a voice change. Other symptoms include:
Your doctor will perform a physical examination and ask about your medical history. They may also order tests such as:
The treatment for vocal cord paralysis depends on the cause. If a tumor or other problem is found, that condition will be treated. Otherwise, the main options for treatment include:
Everyone who has vocal cord paralysis can usually benefit from voice therapy. By learning to breathe and speak properly, some people with mild or moderate paralysis will experience an improvement in their voice. For severe paralysis, surgery may be needed to help improve the movement of the paralyzed vocal cord. Surgery has a high success rate, but it does carry some risk.
If you have vocal cord paralysis, it’s important to avoid activities that worsen your symptoms. These include:
It takes time for vocal cord paralysis to heal varies from person to person. With voice therapy and other treatments, many people see a significant improvement within a few weeks to a couple of months. Vocal cord paralysis may take longer to improve depending on the severity of your condition and your overall health.
Most cases of vocal cord paralysis are not permanent and can be treated successfully. However, if the cause is a tumor or other problem that cannot be treated, the paralysis may be permanent. Speak to your doctor about the best course of action for you.
If you have any questions or concerns, speak to your ENT doctor. They can provide you with more information and support.
At Westside Head and Neck, we will provide you with expert, state-of-the art care for voice, swallowing, and airway disorders. We believe in a multidisciplinary approach involving medical treatment, minimally-invasive surgery when necessary, and voice therapy.
We offer specialized diagnostic tools and therapy for people with voice problems caused by benign growths or lesions (nodules, polyps, cysts, papillomas, granulomas, vascular lesions, scar or sulcus), chronic or acute laryngitis, the aging voice, spasmodic dysphonia, vocal cord paralysis, muscle tension dysphonia, laryngopharyngeal reflux, cancer of the larynx, and neurologic conditions affecting the larynx. We care for professional voice users, including singers, actors, teachers, and attorneys. For patients with breathing or swallowing problems, we provide diagnostic and therapeutic strategies.
Patients receive a comprehensive evaluation of vocal function including analysis of speech and voice quality and videostroboscopic examination of the larynx. Laryngeal Videostroboscopy is a routine, non-painful component of this evaluation and allows the physician to assess the laryngeal anatomy, pliability of the vocal folds, and motion of the vocal cords. This can be done using a rigid or flexible endoscope, and topical anesthetic is routinely used. After the evaluation, a management and treatment plan is developed with the patient. This may include in-office procedures, medication, voice therapy, or surgery.
Common Voice and Larynx Conditions
I am so grateful that I found Dr. Salvado. I’m a voice over actor who sings at church on the weekends so when my voice started to go on the fritz I was absolutely panicked. Dr. Salvado took one easy look (no tube up the nose and down the throat!! My first time not being scoped for vocal issues!!) and quickly saw what the problem was. Following her plan for rehabilitation for me, my voice is back to fully functioning and even clearer than before I started having issues. I’m so happy I found Dr. Salvado, laryngologists are hard to come by and she’s excellent. I highly recommend her!show lessAnastasia C. · February 4, 2020 via Zocdoc