The vocal cords are paired structures that are located within the larynx (voice box). Although the vocal cords are most notable for their ability to provide speech, they do have various other functions. When you inhale, the vocal cords open, allowing for comfortable respiration (breathing).
During swallowing, the vocal cords close to prevent food and liquid from entering the airway. During speech, the vocal cords come together and vibrate, allowing you to vocalize.
Paralysis of one or both vocal cords can present with a multitude of symptoms including hoarseness, inability to project the voice, fatigue with speaking, chronic cough, dysphagia (trouble swallowing), and shortness of breath. Conversely, some patients with vocal cord paralysis may have minimal symptoms or no symptoms at all.
There are numerous causes of vocal cord paralysis or paresis (weakness), and prior to treatment, it is very important to have the appropriate diagnosis. Sometimes, benign conditions such as viral infections, inflammatory diseases that involve the larynx, trauma to the nerves that control the larynx, or direct injury to the vocal cords can be the problem.
There are more serious conditions such as cancer of the larynx, lung, thyroid, and esophagus that can also lead to vocal cord paralysis. This underscores the importance of having the correct diagnosis before initiating therapy.
Treatment of the vocal cord paralysis depends on the cause and the patients overall condition. Often, speech and swallowing therapy provided by a speech and language pathologist is the only treatment necessary. Other times, surgical procedures can be offered than can dramatically improve the patient's voice, swallowing, and overall quality of life. These procedures include: vocal cord injection, which can provide significant temporary relief, and medialization thyroplasty, which provides a more permanent rehabilitation to the paralyzed vocal cord. Your doctor at Suburban Ear, Nose, and Throat is uniquely trained to provide the voice restoration procedures for a paralyzed vocal cord.