Vocal Cord Paralysis
What is Vocal Cord Paralysis?
Vocal fold (or cord) paresis and paralysis result from abnormal nerve input to the voice box muscles (laryngeal muscles). Paralysis is the total interruption of nerve impulse resulting in no movement of the muscle; Paresis is the partial interruption of nerve impulse resulting in weak or abnormal motion of laryngeal muscles.
Vocal fold paresis/paralysis can happen at any age – from birth to advanced age, in males and females alike, from a variety of causes. The effect on patients may vary greatly depending on the patient’s use of his or her voice.
Vocal cord paralysis is usually diagnosed by an otolaryngologist. Noting the symptoms the patient has experienced, the otolaryngologist will ask how and when the voice problems started in order to help determine their cause. Next, the otolaryngologist listens carefully to the patient's voice to identify breathiness or harshness. Then, using an endoscope--a visualization tube with a light at the end--the otolaryngologist looks directly into the throat at the vocal cords.
How is Vocal Cord Paralysis Treated?
The two treatment strategies to improve vocal function are voice therapy and phonosurgery, an operation that repositions and/or reshapes the vocal folds to improve voice function. Voice therapy is normally the first treatment option. After voice therapy, the decision for surgery depends on the severity of the symptoms, vocal needs of the patient, position of paralyzed vocal folds, prognosis for recovery, and the cause of paresis/paralysis, if known.