Vocal cords paralysis, also known as vocal cord dysfunction, occurs when the vocal cords don’t function properly due to illness or injury. This condition can make speaking, swallowing and breathing difficult, which can have detrimental effects on your everyday life and work.
As such, it’s important to know about the causes, symptoms and treatment of vocal cord paralysis so you can get help if you experience any of the symptoms associated with the condition.
Vocal cord paralysis, or vocal cord paresis, describes an impairment in the ability to control the movement of the vocal cords, resulting in changes in the voice and airway problems (e.g., dyspnea, dysphonia). This can lead to difficulty speaking or even complete loss of voice.
Viral infections or certain medications can cause vocal cords paralysis. Still, it can also result from trauma to the throat, thyroid problems, and other possible conditions.
Vocal cord paralysis can be caused by many things, including:
- physical trauma to the neck or head,
- viral infections,
- autoimmune disorders,
- tumours, nerve damage
- any kind of scarring or inflammation of the vocal cords due to infection or strain
- having any neurological conditions such as myasthenia gravis, Parkinson’s disease or MS
Vocal cord paralysis symptoms can include the following:
- a change in the quality of your voice
- loss of volume
- pitch changes
- difficulty speaking
- gurgly sound when you speak
- inability to speak louder
- loud breathing noise
- frequently choking while drinking or eating
If you experience any of these symptoms, you must see a doctor for an examination. They will listen to your voice and assess other physical symptoms before diagnosing. You may need further testing if your doctor suspects that you have vocal cord paralysis.
It’s important to note that some illnesses can cause similar symptoms, so that additional tests may be needed.
Our expert physician at the CK Birla Hospital will typically ask you questions about your symptoms and perform a physical exam of your voice box. The physician may also conduct a series of tests to determine if vocal cord paralysis is causing your symptoms.
These include stroboscopy, vide fluoroscopy, computerized tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The cause of vocal cord paralysis can be determined based on what is discovered during testing.
Treatment is often based on that diagnosis. For example, surgery might be necessary for laryngeal papillomatosis, while speech therapy would suffice for benign causes like Bell’s palsy.
If you have hoarseness and problems swallowing, you should immediately see an ENT specialist at our facility because it could signify more serious health issues like cancer or a viral infection.
There are many possible treatments for vocal cord paralysis, depending on the underlying cause. Some common treatments include speech therapy, steroid injections, and surgery. In some cases, the paralysis may resolve independently without any treatment.
However, it is important to contact a doctor or a specialist if you experience any symptoms of vocal cord paralysis.
Speech therapy is an effective treatment that can help restore your voice or at least teach you how to speak with less strain. It also teaches people how to use their voices best to avoid injury in the future.
Our specialists are highly trained to offer voice therapies to effectively treat your vocal cord paralysis.
If other treatments fail, surgery may be needed to repair damage caused by trauma or remove scar tissue from where nerves have been severed. Here are some common types of surgeries offered at our healthcare facility:
Vocal Cord Injection
This is a type of injection that restores nerve function to damaged nerves. The procedure is usually done by our ENT specialist, who places a needle into the affected area and then proceeds with injecting medicine into the space around the nerve and removing the needle quickly.
We use lasers to cut through the skin near the middle of the larynx (voice box) to allow room for normal movement. Once the incision has healed, we insert a device called a vocal fold stimulator under both vocal folds, which stimulates them back into action via electric impulses.
This involves cutting out part of one bone and grafting it onto another bone near it, most commonly performed on the hyoid bone, which connects throat muscles and tongue base.
We make an opening in the neck so air can go down directly into the lungs instead of going up through the nose and mouth.
This can also be done by inserting prosthetic devices, such as artificial larynxes, dental implants, phono stimulators, stents for esophageal feeding tubes or breathing tubes like tracheostomy tubes.
While there is no guaranteed way to prevent vocal cord paralysis, there are some measures you can take to reduce your risk:
- Avoid smoking and excessive alcohol use, as both can damage the vocal cords
- Try to limit your exposure to environmental toxins and pollutants
- Be careful when using power tools or other machinery that emits loud noises—wear ear protection if necessary
- Get regular checkups with your doctor and report any changes in your voice or swallowing
Issues with breathing and eating
When the patient’s voice box does not work properly because their vocal cords are paralyzed, it can lead to issues with breathing and eating. Patients cannot cough, breathe deeply, talk loudly, or swallow foods or liquids normally.
When this happens, a physician may recommend a tracheotomy which involves creating an opening in the neck into which a tube is inserted so that they can breathe while they sleep. Doctors may also insert a feeding tube if necessary.
Many neurological conditions may result in vocal cord paralysis, including brain tumour, stroke, spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis (MS), cerebral palsy (CP), Parkinson’s disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), as well as other less common neurological disorders.
Sometimes the cause of paralysis cannot be determined even after a thorough examination by a doctor.
The good thing is that the condition is often temporary and will improve independently. However, it can take several months for the paralysis to resolve completely.
Here’s what you can do to help your vocal cords recover:
- Drink lots of fluids to keep your throat moist
- Avoid straining your voice by speaking quietly and avoiding shouting or singing
- Take breaks throughout the day to rest your voice
- Practice breathing exercises with an emphasis on deep breathing to strengthen the respiratory muscles
- Do not drink hot liquids, which may dry out your throat
- Stay away from cigarettes and smoke as much as possible; smoke constricts the airways and may lead to additional problems such as chronic bronchitis
- Keep your neck relaxed so that any excess tension does not put added pressure on your vocal cords
- Use a humidifier when necessary to increase moisture in the airways if they have become dry due to frequent use of voice or illness
If you think you may have vocal cord paralysis, it’s important to contact a medical professional as soon as possible.
The CK Birla Hospital has a team of experts who can help diagnose and treat the condition. Our doctors will examine your throat to determine if your vocal cords are paralyzed. If this is the case, we will provide you with treatment options such as medication or surgery. You’ll also be given instructions on how to care for yourself at home during recovery.
Contact the CK Birla Hospital as soon as you start experiencing any symptoms of vocal cord paralysis mentioned above.