Vocal Fold Paralysis

Your vocal folds — also called vocal cords — are two flexible bands of muscle tissue that sit at the entrance to the windpipe (trachea). Vocal fold paralysis is when one or both of the vocal folds in a person’s body stop working. 

One or both vocal folds can be paralyzed. When one vocal fold is paralyzed (unilateral vocal cord paralysis), voice and sometimes swallowing are impaired. When both vocal folds are paralyzed (bilateral vocal cord paralysis), the airway and breathing are severely compromised. 

Vocal fold paralysis is also referred to as vocal cord paresis (pear-ree-sis). 

Causes or Contributing Factors

In many cases, the cause of vocal fold paralysis is unknown. But in some cases, the cause can be:

  • Viral infection (such as Lyme disease)
  • An injury to the head, neck or chest
  • Tumors of the skull base, neck or chest
  • Certain neurologic conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease or stroke
  • Lung or thyroid cancer

Signs and Symptoms

Typical symptoms include:

  • Changes in the voice, such as hoarseness or a loss of volume or pitch.
  • Difficulties with breathing, such as shortness of breath or noisy breathing
  • Swallowing problems such as choking or coughing when you eat or drink 

Diagnosis

At the University of Michigan Vocal Health Center, we will:

  • Take a complete history of your voice problem 
  • Evaluate your speaking method
  • Examine your vocal cords 

Non-surgical Treatment

For voice fold paralysis, we offer:

  • Voice therapy

Surgical Treatment

If voice therapy does not correct the problem, or the condition is serious, we offer:

  • Phonosurgery — This operation repositions and/or reshapes the vocal folds to improve the voice. Depending upon the nature and extent of the problem, we use either an endoscope (an instrument that is introduced into the body to give a view of the internal parts) or an open surgery. In either case, the patient should be able to go home the same day. 

Make an Appointment

Schedule an appointment by calling us at (734) 936-8051.