Physician examining patient's neck

When nerve impulses to the larynx (voice box) are interrupted, it can cause paralysis of the vocal cord muscle and interfere with your ability to speak and breathe. Treatment for vocal cord paralysis will depend on the cause, and the severity and duration of symptoms. Some people recover without surgery.

What happens with vocal cord paralysis?

When a vocal cord is weakened, it causes a wider, slower-moving stream of air. The voice is usually weak, breathy, and difficult to project, and you may feel fatigued after only a few minutes of speaking. The known causes of vocal cord paralysis include:

  • Stroke
  • Tumors
  • Inflammation
  • Injury to the vocal cord during surgery
  • Chest or neck injury
  • Neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis

Is surgery required for vocal cord paralysis?

Treatment may involve voice therapy, surgery, or both. Some cases resolve without surgery. A doctor may recommend waiting for six months to a year, with voice therapy to help prevent improper use of the voice while the nerves heal. If the voice is expected to recover, treatment may involve a temporary filler injection that adds bulk to the paralyzed vocal cord, to bring it closer to the middle of the voice box, so the functioning vocal cord can make closer contact. If recovery is not expected, surgery may be required to place a permanent implant. 

Where to find top-notch ear, nose, and throat specialists?

Texas ENT Specialists has Centers of Excellence offering the highest level of ear, nose, and throat care in 15 locations throughout the greater Houston area. We are committed to helping our patients learn all they can about their symptoms and treatment options. If you or a loved one is suffering with vocal cord paralysis, contact us to find out how we can help. 

How big is the incision for vocal cord surgery?

If permanent surgery is required to treat vocal cord paralysis, a small, one-inch incision is made to insert the implant. We use a Gore-Tex surgical fabric implant that has been used to treat vocal cord paralysis for more than 25 years. This implant is customizable to the shape of the vocal cord, well tolerated by the body, and does not become infected. 

How much rest and recovery will I need?

Resting your voice is important after vocal cord surgery. In most cases, the doctor will recommend three to seven days of voice rest. During this rest period, you will need to refrain from talking or whispering, and from coughing or clearing your throat if you can avoid it. Your ear, nose and throat doctor will provide guidelines for gradual return to use of your voice. 

FAQ about vocal cord paralysis

What are the symptoms of vocal cord paralysis?

The vocal cords do more than produce sound. They also protect the airway by preventing food and drink from entering the trachea (windpipe) and causing choking. When a vocal cord is paralyzed, you may experience:

  • Inability to speak loudly
  • Loss of vocal pitch
  • Hoarseness
  • Breathy quality of the voice
  • Noisy breathing
  • Need to take frequent breaths while speaking
  • Loss of gag reflex
  • Ineffective coughing
  • Choking or coughing while swallowing food or drink

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