What is vocal cord paralysis?
Everyone has two vocal cords in his or her larynx (voicebox). The vocal cords vibrate during speech to produce voice. If one or both vocal cords are unable to move then the person will experience voice problems and possibly breathing and swallowing problems. This is vocal cord paralysis.
There are different types of vocal cord paralysis. Bilateral vocal cord paralysis involves both vocal cords becoming stuck halfway between open and closed (the paramedian position) and not moving either way. This condition often requires a tracheotomy (an opening made in the neck to provide an airway) to protect the airway when the person eats.
Unilateral vocal cord paralysis is when only one side is paralyzed in the paramedian position or has a very limited movement. It is more common than bilateral involvement. The paralyzed vocal cord does not move to vibrate with the other cord but vibrates abnormally or does not vibrate at all. The individual will run out of air easily. They will be unable to speak clearly or loudly.
What causes vocal cord paralysis?
Vocal cord paralysis is caused by head and neck injuries, tumors, disease, surgery, or stroke. The vagus nerve has branches that run from the brainstem to the larynx (voicebox) and controls the movement of the vocal cords. Damage to the vagus nerve is the specific cause of vocal cord paralysis.
How is vocal cord paralysis diagnosed?
The vocal cords can be examined by using an endoscope that is inserted through the nose or mouth. An endoscope has a light that the examiner uses to view the cords and movement patterns during phonation (producing sound) and at rest. Typically a complete voice evaluation is conducted by a speech-language pathologist (SLP) and otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat doctor).
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