Vocal Cord Paralysis
What is Vocal Cord Paralysis?
Why Does Vocal Cord Paralysis Cause Symptoms?
In rare cases, both vocal cords are paralyzed (known as bilateral vocal cord paralysis). This is a very serious condition. Since neither vocal cord is able to move, this means they cannot open enough to take a deep breath, so the most common symptom of bilateral vocal cord paralysis is difficulty breathing. This can be a minor issue in some people that is only experienced when they do exercise or strenuous activity, but in others, the difficulty breathing can be life threatening and require urgent surgery for treatment.
How Does Vocal Cord Paralysis Happen?
There are three main causes of vocal cord paralysis. It can happen as a result of nerve injury during surgery around the neck, lungs, heart, or esophagus; or from direct compression of a nerve in the neck or chest due to a growth such as a tumor; or it can happen spontaneously on its own without any known cause. We believe that this last scenario is most likely due to a virus that attacks the nerve and causes it to become inflamed and stop functioning. Don’t worry, vocal cord paralysis is NOT CONTAGIOUS.
How Is Vocal Cord Paralysis Treated?
The first step is determining the cause, and determining whether we think the paralysis is likely to be temporary or permanent. Although we haven’t yet found any proven ways to increase the chances of nerve recovery (there are some medications that MAY help, but the data is not conclusive), laryngologists (voice doctors) can perform a variety of procedures to REPOSITION the affected vocal cord, which can provide significant improvement of the voice. Common treatments for paralysis include vocal cord filler injections to temporarily bulk up and reposition the vocal cords, permanent vocal cord repositioning procedures (such as type 1 thyroplasty/medialization laryngoplasty and arytenoid adduction), and reinnervation procedures where a functioning nerve is attached to the injured nerve to allow for nerve regrowth to occur.