Vocal cord, or vocal fold, paralysis is the name of a condition when one of our two vocal folds is immobile. Ordinarily, the vocal folds come apart to let air into the lungs and come together tightly when we speak, cough, or swallow. If one vocal fold is not working correctly, a person can typically experience a weak and breathy voice, as well as difficulty swallowing liquids. Much like a leaky valve, this is caused by the paralyzed vocal fold allowing too much air to pass through while talking or swallowing.
Our team will diagnose this by visualizing the vocal fold movement using an endoscope, either through the nose or mouth.
- Neck or chest surgery
- Recent intubation with a breathing tube
- Cancer (brain, lung, or thyroid)
- Viral infection
In some cases, however, the cause is unknown (idiopathic). Unless clearly related to a cause such as surgery or trauma, a CT or MRI may serve to rule out a tumor causing the paralysis.
Treatment for vocal fold paralysis has evolved over the years and ranges from surgical intervention to in-office injection to voice therapy. Timeframes for intervention have also advanced with patients being treated earlier than in the past.
Images obtained from a computerized tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) allow your doctor to accurately diagnose your vocal cord paralysis and to determine the underlying cause.
Your ENT doctor inserts a thin, flexible tube (endoscope) with a tiny camera to closely inspect the vocal cords and make an accurate diagnosis.
A blood test may be used to help your doctor determine the underlying cause of the vocal cord paralysis.
You may work with a voice therapist to undergo exercises and other activities to help strengthen your vocal cords.
Vocal Fold Injections
Our team has been treating patients with vocal fold paralysis for the past 10 years with an in-office procedure that takes less than 15 minutes. Under local anesthetic, an inert filler material is injected through a fine needle to bulk up and push over the paralyzed vocal fold. This allows the mobile vocal fold to meet the paralyzed one more easily and with much less effort when speaking. Patient tolerance is good with only mild discomfort. Results are usually instantaneous and, depending on which material is injected, last anywhere from 2-3 months to 1 year. Over time, the material is generally reabsorbed, but many patients can experience longer lasting improvement.
If your vocal cord paralysis does not resolve on its own or with therapy, your ENT specialist may recommend surgery. Your ENT surgeon places structural implants to help reposition your vocal cords.
An ENT specialist may recommend an emerging treatment for your vocal cord paralysis. Speak with your doctor for more information about the options that may be available to you.
Why Choose UHealth?
Ranked No. 28 in the nation according to U.S. News & World Report. The ranking reflects the team’s dedication to excellence in research patient care and outcomes. Surgeons, audiologists, biomedical engineers, speech pathologists, researchers, and psychologists collaborate with many research programs at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine to deliver the best possible multidisciplinary care to pediatric and adult ear, nose, and throat patients.
Customized treatment from a multidisciplinary team. We work with you to understand your condition and your vocal goals so we can craft a customized treatment plan that makes the most sense for you. When therapy is needed, we develop a personalized therapy program based on your specific situation and tailored to your needs and goals. Our multidisciplinary team works alongside you for the long term to ensure that you receive comprehensive treatment and get your voice back.
World-class care in an academic health system. We are recognized throughout South Florida and the world as a leader in treating conditions and disorders of the ear, nose, and throat. Backed by one of the nation’s top universities, our team uses the latest technologies and research-driven expertise to provide you with superior, personalized care and the best outcomes.
Questions? We're here to help.
Our appointment specialists are ready to help you find what you need. Contact us today.