Vocal Cord Paralysis and its treatment
What is Vocal Cord Paralysis?
Vocal cord paralysis is a condition where the nerve impulses in and around the larynx or voice box are interrupted. The muscles within the larynx are then halted and paralyzed, causing the patient to lose the ability to speak and in some cases breathe. This is because the larynx is not just a functionary organ for speech – it is also partly responsible for control food and drink intake, ensuring that nothing enters the trachea, leading to the lungs.
Causes of Vocal Cord Paralysis
One of the more benign causes is bacterial infection albeit it is not very common. The more serious – and more common – causes include damage to the nerve impulses from recent surgery or from physical injury to the neck or chest.
Stroke and tumors may also be leading causes of vocal cord paralysis. A stroke disrupts brain messages to the nerve endings at the larynx while a tumor may grow in and around the nerves, disrupting their function.
Inflammations caused by surgery or arthritis may also induce vocal cord paralysis. Inflammation may interfere with the vocal cords’ capacity to open and close. In this case it is not true vocal cord paralysis since the nerves are still fine but the symptoms are the same, i.e. difficulty breathing and speaking.
Loss of gag reflex, weak coughing, hoarseness, drop of vocal pitch, frequent breathing while speaking and loud breathing are common symptoms of vocal cord paralysis. In most cases, only one vocal cord is paralyzed and this leads to slight difficulty breathing and speaking but it doesn’t impair the two completely.
Risks and Complications
Females have shown a higher likelihood to develop vocal cord paralysis than men and the same is said for people diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. People undergoing neck and throat surgery will also have a significantly higher chance of getting vocal cord paralysis.
Vocal cord paralysis may be so light that it only leads to slightly hoarse speech and breathing but it can also be so dangerous to become life-threatening. Aspiration – the inhaling of food and liquids – can cause severe choking or even severe pneumonia.
Treatment Options for Vocal Cord Paralysis
Of the paralysis is light then vocal therapy is often the first treatment option. This involves a series of exercises to help improve breathing and speech.
If the vocal cords require additional bulk to function properly then a laryngologist will inject body fat or collagen to the area, giving additional mass to the weakened vocal cords. Structural implants may be used for this same purpose as well, repositioning the vocal cords to accommodate for the one not working.
Reinnervation is a surgical procedure where nerves from the other areas of the neck are surgically moved to replace the ones in the vocal cords not working. However, it may take several months before they respond.
In worst case scenarios tracheotomy is the only solution. This is where an opening is created below the vocal cords and a breathing tube is attached, allowing a person to breathe without having the air pass by the damaged cords.
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