Vocal Cord Paralysis - Causes, Symptoms and Treatment Methods

Published: 02nd September 2007
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Vocal cord paralysis is a voice disorder that occurs when one or both of the vocal cords (or vocal folds) do not open or close properly. Vocal fold paresis/paralysis can happen at any age - from birth to advanced age, in males and females alike, from a variety of causes. Vocal cord paralysis is a common disorder, particularly among the elderly, and symptoms can range from mild to life threatening. People with one paralyzed vocal cord often complain of choking when drinking liquids, but they rarely have difficulty swallowing solid foods. Vocal cord paralysis may result from lesions at the nucleus ambiguus, its supranuclear tracts, the main trunk of the vagus, or the recurrent laryngeal nerves. The cause of vocal cord paralysis can indicate whether the disorder will likely improve over time or whether it is likely to be permanent. The vocal cords are two elastic bands of muscle tissue located in the larynx (voice box) directly above the trachea (windpipe). The most common symptoms of vocal cord paralysis or paresis include hoarseness, vocal fatigue, pain for tightness in the throat when speaking, aspiration, and breathing difficulties.

Vocal cord paralysis can result from injury, tumors, or surgery in the neck and upper chest. People with one paralyzed vocal cord often complain of choking when drinking liquids, but they rarely have difficulty swallowing solid foods. One of the most important things to distinguish from vocal cord paresis/paralysis is vocal cord fixation. Someone who has vocal cord paralysis often has difficulty swallowing and coughing because food or liquids slip into the trachea and lungs. This happens because the paralyzed cord or cords remain open, leaving the airway passage and the lungs unprotected. During swallowing, the vocal cords shut the airway so that food is not inhaled. When vocal cords are paralyzed, all three functions are affected. The most dangerous form of vocal cord paralysis is one that affects the opening function, controlled by the recurrent laryngeal nerve. Treatments for vocal cord paralysis range from voice therapy to help you strengthen your vocal cords and improve your ability to speak, to surgical options, or both.

Causes of Vocal cord paralysis

The common causes and risk factor's of Vocal cord paralysis include the following:

A viral infection.

Lung or thyroid cancer.

Exposure to smoking.

Tumors, both cancerous and noncancerous, can grow around the muscle and cartilage of your voice box and can cause vocal cord paralysis.

A neurologic insult such as a stroke.

If you have certain neurological conditions, such as Parkinson's disease or multiple sclerosis, you may experience vocal cord paralysis.

Endocrine or Hormonal imbalance.

Symptoms of Vocal cord paralysis

Some symptoms related to Vocal cord paralysis are as follows:

Discomfort from vocal straining.

Changes in voice quality, such as loss of volume or pitch, may also be noticeable.

Shortness of breath with exertion.

Ineffective or poor cough.

Noisy breathing.

Inability to speak loudly.

Inability to "bear down" while lifting.

Treatment of Vocal cord paralysis

Here is list of the methods for treating Vocal cord paralysis:

Voice therapy is often a first treatment option, especially if the cause of the condition is unknown.

An adequate airway is immediately necessary, usually secured with an endotracheal tube in the windpipe.

Sometimes an operation that permanently shifts a paralyzed cord closer to the center of the airway may improve the voice.

Botanical medicine and deep tissue massage to the area can also bring some resolution, although it may not be long term.

A tracheostomy (surgery to create an opening into the trachea through the neck) may be needed.

Juliet Cohen writes articles for diseases cure and health care information.

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