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Is Vocal Cord Paralysis Treatable?

Sore throat woman on gray background

When your voice sounds hoarse for a couple weeks or more or you have to clear your throat often, you could have a condition known as vocal paralysis. This condition occurs when the nerve impulses that normally reach one or both of your vocal cords are disrupted. While some cases of vocal cord paralysis can get better on their own, other cases require medical care. Find out more about this condition, including what kinds of treatment options are available.

Symptoms of Vocal Cord Paralysis

Vocal cord paralysis typically causes symptoms that involve your ability to speak, breathe and swallow. Many cases only affect one vocal cord, although both vocal cords can be affected in rare cases. When both vocal cords are paralyzed, you can experience severe breathing problems and other serious complications. Symptoms that can occur in milder cases of vocal cord paralysis include the following:

  • Having prolonged hoarseness that isn’t due to a cold or allergies
  • Breathing that is noisy
  • Having to draw in breath more often than usual while talking
  • Losing your gag reflex
  • Needing to clear your throat often
  • Losing your vocal pitch
  • Having trouble swallowing
  • Being unable to speak in a loud voice

You should have your vocal cords examined if you have any of these symptoms or any other sudden changes that affect your voice or your ability to swallow. Keep in mind that this condition can be mild, but it can also lead to serious complications, such as accidentally inhaling drinks or foods. In rare cases, this inhalation can result in pneumonia.

Causes of Vocal Cord Paralysis

Vocal cord paralysis occurs when your nerve impulses are unable to reach one or both of your vocal cords. This causes your vocal cord muscles to become paralyzed. In some cases, no exact cause is found. In other cases, this condition can be due to vocal cord trauma or injuries that occur during surgery or injuries to your chest or neck. Other possible causes include viral infections, multiple sclerosis and other neurological conditions, stroke and tumors. Your risk of having vocal cord paralysis is higher if you undergo surgery on your chest or throat or if you have been diagnosed with a neurological condition.

Diagnosing Vocal Cord Paralysis

When you seek medical care for vocal cord paralysis, diagnosing this condition involves examining your vocal cords. Your doctor will ask to listen to you speak and will want to know what kinds of symptoms you have had and how long you’ve had them. You might need to have tests done for an accurate diagnosis or to rule out other potential causes. Some of these tests include the following:

  • Laryngoscopy: This test involves the use of a thin tube or mirror that allows your doctor to view your vocal cords in more detail. This can help determine if one or both of your vocal cords are paralyzed.
  • Laryngeal electromyography: This test involves having tiny needles placed in your vocal cord muscles, which is done to measure electric currents. Your doctor might do this test in order to have a better idea of what recovery might be like for you.
  • Blood work: This might be done to rule out other causes.
  • Imaging tests: These tests, such as X-rays or CT scans, might be done to rule out other causes.

Treatment Options for Vocal Cord Paralysis

Vocal cord paralysis can be treated, but the effectiveness of treatment and the type of treatment needed depend on certain factors. These include how severe your symptoms are, when they started and what is causing them. Your doctor might recommend waiting to have surgery done for up to a year from when your symptoms started, since this condition sometimes clears up on its own. While you wait, you might go through voice therapy, which helps make your vocal cords stronger.

Treatment options for vocal cord paralysis include the following:

  • Voice therapy: This involves doing exercises that improve muscle strength in your vocal cords, which can help you breathe better while speaking and lower your risk of having swallowing problems. Your doctor might recommend surgery if your condition does not improve with voice therapy alone.
  • Bulk injections: These injections add bulk to your affected vocal cord, which makes it easier for the other vocal cord to reach it.
  • Vocal cord repositioning surgery: This involves moving tissue in order to position the affected vocal cord closer to the other vocal cord.
  • Implant in the larynx: This involves using an implant to move the affected vocal cord closer to the other one.
  • Reinnervation: This involves replacing a damaged nerve with a healthy one.

If you suffer from vocal cord paralysis, please contact New York ENT to schedule an appointment. We can discuss treatment options with you, so you can find relief for your symptoms.

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