What is Vocal Cord Paralysis?

How to Determine When to See an ENT Doctor for Vocal Cord Concerns

What is Vocal Cord Paralysis?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.

What Is Vocal Cord Paralysis?

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.

What Causes Vocal Cord Paralysis?

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

  • A stroke or other type of neurological problem
  • Injuries to the neck or throat, such as from surgery or cancer
  • A tumor, infection, or other condition that impacts the nerves used for speaking

What are the Symptoms of Vocal Cord Paralysis?

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:

  • Hoarseness
  • Inability to speak in a normal volume or with a normal tone
  • Weak cough, which can lead to chronic problems from aspiration (inhaling food, liquids, or vomit into the lungs)

How is Vocal Cord Paralysis Diagnosed?

Your doctor will perform a physical examination and ask about your medical history. They may also order tests such as:

  • A CT scan or MRI to check for a tumor or other problem
  • A laryngoscopy. In this procedure, your doctor looks at the vocal cords through a scope inserted through your nose
  • Electromyography (EMG) to check the electrical activity of the muscles around the vocal cords
  • A nerve conduction study to check the health of the nerves involved in speaking

How is Vocal Cord Paralysis Treated?

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:

  • Voice therapy to improve your voice and breathing techniques
  • Pursed-lip breathing, which can help you speak more clearly and reduce the risk of aspiration
  • Electrical stimulation. This treatment uses a device that sends a small electric current to the affected vocal cord, which can restore movement of the paralyzed cord
  • In some cases, vocal cord surgery may be needed to improve the movement of the paralyzed vocal cord. This may involve cutting or removing a piece of the paralyzed cord or moving a muscle from another part of the body to help lift it
  • Medications to help relieve symptoms such as a hoarse voice or difficulty swallowing

How Can I Fix Vocal Cord Paralysis?

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:

  • Yelling or screaming
  • Speaking for long periods
  • Smoking
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Chewing gum or eating hard or crunchy foods
  • Talking in noisy situations, such as in a crowd at a party

How Long Does It Take for Vocal Cord Paralysis to Heal?

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.

Is vocal cord paralysis curable?

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.

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Voice & Swallowing Disorders

What is Vocal Cord Paralysis?Philosophy
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.

Patient Care
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

  • Chronic sore throat
  • Cough
  • Hoarseness
  • Laryngopharyngeal Reflux Disease (LPR) & GERD
  • Laryngitis
  • Reactive vocal cord lesion
  • Spasmodic dysphonia
  • Swallowing disorders
  • Vocal cord cysts/nodules/polyps
  • Vocal cord paralysis


  • Voice rest
  • Speech / Voice therapy & practices
  • Reflux medicines & lifestyle modifications
  • Vocal cord nodule, polyp and cysts removal
  • Vocal cord medialization
  • Tracheotomy
  • Voice prosthesis
  • Antibiotics
  • Flexible fiberoptic laryngoscopy
  • Vocal cord injections

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

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