Your vocal cords are two flexible bands of muscle tissue that sit at the entrance to the windpipe (trachea). When you speak, the bands come together and vibrate to make sound. The rest of the time, the vocal cords are relaxed in an open position, so you can breathe.
In most cases of vocal cord paralysis, only one vocal cord is paralyzed. If both of your vocal cords are affected, you may have vocal difficulties, as well as significant problems with breathing and swallowing.
Signs and symptoms of vocal cord paralysis may include:
- A breathy quality to the voice
- Noisy breathing
- Loss of vocal pitch
- Choking or coughing while swallowing food, drink or saliva
- The need to take frequent breaths while speaking
- Inability to speak loudly
- Loss of your gag reflex
- Ineffective coughing
- Frequent throat clearing
When to see a doctor
If you have unexplained, persistent hoarseness for more than two weeks, or if you notice any unexplained voice changes or discomfort, contact your doctor.
May 20, 2015
- Dankbaar JW, et al. Vocal cord paralysis: Anatomy, imaging and pathology. Insights in Imaging. 2014;5:743.
- Vocal cord paralysis. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/voice/pages/vocalparal.aspx. Accessed April 13, 2015.
- Vocal cord paralysis. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. http://www.asha.org/public/speech/disorders/vfparalysis.htm. Accessed April 13, 2015.
- Doherty GM, ed. Otolaryngology—Head & Neck Surgery. In: Current Diagnosis & Treatment: Surgery. 13th ed. New York, NY: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2010. http://www.accessmedicine.com. Accessed April 14, 2015.
- Bruch JM, et al. Hoarseness in adults. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed April 11, 2015.
- Rubin RT, et al. Vocal fold paresis and paralysis. Otolaryngologic Clinics of North America. 2007;40:1109.
- Toutounchi SJS, et al. Vocal cord paralysis and its etiologies: A prospective study. Journal of Cardiovascular and Thoracic Research. 2014;6:47.
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