Vocal cord paralysis is a threatening condition that affects your speaking and breathing ability. It is one of those conditions wherein doctors often do not know the exact cause. Paralysis, in general, is alarming and should not be taken lightly no matter how mild or severe the case is.
What exactly is vocal cord paralysis? How do you know if you have it? Can it be treated? If so, what are the diagnosis and treatment? Let’s find out.
What is Vocal Cord Paralysis?
Vocal Cord Paralysis is one of those throat conditions wherein the vocal cords that sit at the entrance of the trachea are paralyzed. In some cases, only one of the vocal folds is affected, while in some cases, both suffer from paralysis. Imagine having a hard time breathing and speaking with the conjunction of the pain that it causes. That is how difficult having vocal cord paralysis is.
How do you know if you have it?
It’s quite easy to know if you have Vocal Cord Paralysis. The signs and symptoms that you possibly have vocal cord paralysis are:
Raspiness, strain, and breathiness in your voice is an indication that you might have vocal cord paralysis.
- Loss of Vocal Pitch, Inability to speak loudly, and frequent breaths while speaking
Since the vocal cord that is paralyzed experiences a hard time vibrating, our ability to speak sharply decreases. Some patients even experience a total inability to speak clearly depending on the severity of the condition.
- Difficulty in swallowing food, fluids, and even saliva
The vocal cords or vocal folds are responsible for filtering food, liquid, and gases. When we talk and breathe, our vocal cords open up and make way for the air to pass through the trachea. While when we swallow food, fluids, and saliva, the vocal cords then open up for them to pass through the esophagus, and vice versa. If you might have noticed, you can’t swallow food while breathing, and the other way around. If the vocal cords are forced to do so, you’ll end up choking and coughing out the food or fluid.
- Choking and coughing when swallowing food, fluid
Aside from the difficulty in doing so, a person who suffers from vocal cord paralysis chokes up and coughs up when swallowing food, fluid, and saliva. This is because a person who has a paralyzed vocal cord loses or decreases the ability to open and close the vocal cord.
- Frequent throat clearing and ineffective coughing
Since your vocal cords are paralyzed and particles are not properly filtered for either trachea or esophagus, you’ll feel the recurring urge for clearing your throat. Additionally, the food, fluid, or saliva that are stuck often blocks the passageways are hard to clear out, hence you might feel that coughing doesn’t soothe the condition.
- Loss of gag reflex
If you experience all or most of the symptoms, most likely, you have vocal cord paralysis. However, it is still best to consult your doctor.
What could cause your vocal cord paralysis?
Oftentimes, doctors do not have exact knowledge of the cause of vocal cord paralysis. Some of the most common possible causes of vocal cord paralysis are:
Stroke is a condition wherein there is an interruption with the blood flow in the brain, thus affecting certain parts of the body. Vocal cord paralysis is often pinpointing stroke as the culprit. Well, this depends on the medical history of the patient.
Cancerous or non-cancerous tumors have tendencies to grow on the area of or near the pharynx. Thus, the muscles, cartilage, or nerves that control the folds are affected, hence paralyzed.
Lyme disease, Epstein-Barr virus, and herpes are infections that could cause paralysis in the vocal folds.
- Neck, chest (or in between) injury
If you experience an injury in your neck, your chest, or anywhere near, the nerves that control the vocal cord and the voice box may be traumatized or interfered
- Surgery anywhere near the trachea
If you underwent surgery for your thyroid/parathyroid glands, esophagus, chest, neck, or anywhere near the vocal folds, there is a possibility that the surgery affected the nerves that control the vocal cords.
Can it be treated?
It is most likely that your doctor will observe your lifestyle, quality of your voice, and medical history. Your vocal cords will be examined and the results will be evaluated. The doctor might also ask you about the duration of the condition. Most likely, if you just recently experience the symptoms, the doctor will advise for observation for up to six months. The reason is that, in some cases, vocal cord paralysis naturally returns to normal.
These are the tests that you might undergo to determine the cause and severity of the vocal cord paralysis:
- Laryngeal electromyography
- Blood tests and scans
- CT Scan
Although, not all of these tests will be conducted to determine the condition. As long as the doctor has a clear idea of the cause and severity of the paralysis, he will most likely have an idea of how to treat the condition.
Other doctors do not jump to surgery and treatments right away. They will first observe if symptoms persist after a few months. As mentioned earlier, some cases of paralysis usually heal naturally.
However, if the paralysis’ symptoms continue and persist, these are the treatments that you might undergo.
This treatment is often administered before trying any other treatments – within 3 months while waiting for surgery. This depends on the severity and the cause of vocal cord paralysis. Voice or vocal therapy involves exercises and activities that encourage the strengthening of the vocal cords.
After three to six months and your vocal cords still haven’t recovered, the doctor will offer certain surgeries depending on the case of your condition. The possible surgeries are:
- Bulk Injection
- Structural implants
- Vocal Cord Repositioning
- Damage Nerve Replacement a.k.a. Reinnervation
There are rare cases wherein vocal paralysis is permanent. Other treatments are still being studied and developed to help with the regeneration of the damaged nerves in the vocal cords.
It is best to consult a doctor immediately in case of symptoms. Having an idea of how hard having vocal paralysis is, it is best to take better care of our vocal cords to avoid the complication. As the saying goes “Prevention is better than cure.”, it would also be better to spread awareness regarding vocal cord paralysis.
Do you know someone who’s experiencing symptoms of vocal cord paralysis? It could affect you, your family, your friend, or your neighbor. Cache Valley ENT specializes in ear, nose, and throat services. If you happen to experience throat conditions, asthma, hearing problems, nasal allergies, or anything related to your ears, nose, or throat, we could have the solution to your condition. Contact Cache Valley ENT today and be relieved.