Vocal Cord Paralysis Causes & Symptoms

Male patient holding his throat while a doctor evaluates

What is vocal cord paralysis?

Vocal cord or vocal fold paralysis is the result of abnormal nerve input to the voice box muscles (laryngeal muscles). When total interruption of nerve impulse occurs, causing a complete lack of movement, it is known as paralysis. On the other hand, a partial interruption of nerve impulse, causing weak movement, is known as paresis.

The causes of vocal cord paralysis

Vocal cord paralysis is often referred to as idiopathic, meaning the origin of the condition is not known. However, there are a few causes that are known, including:

  • Injury during surgery – Sometimes surgery on the lungs, esophagus, heart, or thyroid can inadvertently result in injury and paralysis or paresis of the vocal cords.
  • Viral infections – Inflammation from an infection can injure nerves and result in paralysis.
  • Tumors of the neck or chest – Tumors, either cancerous or noncancerous, can grow surrounding a nerve and squeeze it, resulting in varying degrees of paralysis.
  • Blunt neck or chest trauma – Any kind of serious impact on the neck or chest may injure the nerves that carry signals to the voice box.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms that may warrant a consultation with ear, nose and throat specialists with New York ENT may include:

  • Problems when swallowing food or drink
  • Changes in voice pitch or sound quality (hoarseness)
  • Shortness of breath or noisy breathing

How is vocal cord paralysis diagnosed?

An ear, nose and throat doctor with New York ENT will conduct a general examination as well as question you about symptoms voice use. They may also examine the voice box to determine the best method of treatment.

Another way to evaluate the voice box is through laryngeal electromyography (LEMG), which is a measurement tool that allows doctors to check the electrical currents in the voice box. Additionally, blood tests, x-rays, or other tests may be used to rule out other nerve-related diseases.

What are my treatment options?

There are two treatment strategies for improving vocal function:

  • Voice therapy – Similar to physical therapy, this involves working with the muscles to recover. This is usually the first treatment option to regain nerve function.
  • Phonosurgery – This is vocal cord paralysis surgery that repositions the vocal folds, improving function of the voice. This is usually a treatment option for those who have gone through voice therapy without success.

Schedule Your Consultation

If you are suffering from vocal cord paralysis, the first step towards feeling better is to schedule an evaluation with an experienced ear, nose and throat doctor. Board certified physicians with New York ENT have extensive experience with vocal cord palsy treatment. Fill out the form on this page or call our office at 212-873-6036 to schedule an appointment today.

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