The larynx, or voice box, houses two vocal cords that vibrate as exhaled air passes through them. This vibration causes turbulent airflow, which in turn produces sound. When one or both of these cords is paralyzed or has limited movement (paresis), we experience difficulty in speaking and sometimes even in breathing or swallowing. Depending on whether one or both cords is affected and where on the cords the damage occurs, symptoms may include breathing difficulties, choking or uncontrollable coughing while eating, pneumonia (from food and drink getting aspirated into the lungs), hoarseness, inability to raise your voice, limited pitch, and complete inability to speak for more than second or so.
If only one vocal cord is affected, treatment may consist of both medical interventions and behavioral therapy. Surgery or filler injections may be required to manipulate the vocal cord and reposition it. A speech-language pathologist can provide very effective therapy for retraining the vocal cords and increasing breath support.
If both vocal cords are paralyzed in the open position, the vocal cords may not be able to close well enough to protect the airway when eating or drinking. If food or beverage repeatedly enters the windpipe and lungs, you can get pneumonia. A tracheotomy (opening directly from the neck into the windpipe) may be necessary to protect the airway from aspiration. This will allow the patient to eat and drink safely. In addition, the vocal cords may not be able to touch enough to produce audible sound. In this circumstance, the vocal cords might also be injected with filler to change their position or manipulated surgically to improve functionality. Dr. Yagoda based in New York/ Manhattan can help with vocal cord paralysis.
Dr. Yagoda is proud to be the voice doctor of Soulful Singer/Songwriter Grace Bernicker, who Dr. Yagoda diagnosed with a congenital vocal cord paralysis after Grace had already become a successful young adult singer/songwriter. Grace is proof positive that physical limitations —even a vocal cord paralysis— cannot hold a singer back who is dedicated and persistent! Listen to Grace’s acoustic cover of Rihanna’s song “Stay“ featured exclusively on American Songwriter!