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Vocal cord paresis

Patient information A-Z

This leaflet has been written to try to help you understand some of the symptoms you have been experiencing, and answer some of the questions that you may have about your voice problems.

What is vocal cord paresis?

Vocal cord paresis is the weakness of one or both of the vocal cords. The vocal folds are mobile, but their movement is reduced.

What are the causes of vocal cord paresis?

Vocal cord paresis may result from:

  • A viral infection.
  • Stroke.
  • Trauma to the head.
  • Damage between the nerves and muscles within the larynx (voice box) following surgery or cancer to the head, neck, or chest region.
  • Neurological disease such as Parkinson’s.
  • However, sometimes the cause may be unknown.

What are the symptoms of vocal cord paresis?

Vocal cord paresis produces several symptoms and their severity depends on whether one or both of the vocal cords are affected, and/or the degree of weakness.

Changes to your voice:

  • Your voice may sound breathy and weak however if both vocal cords are affected you may loose your voice completely.
  • The tone of your voice may become variable.
  • The loudness of your voice may decrease.
  • You may find it difficult or effortful to make yourself heard in a noisy environment.

Other symptoms:

  • You may experience difficulty swallowing or a sensation that food/drink is going down the ‘wrong way’.
  • You may experience a weak cough and therefore find it difficult to remove secretions/mucous from your throat.

How will my diagnosis be confirmed?

You will be seen by a member of the ear, nose and throat (ENT) team who will look at how your vocal cords are moving. A speech and language therapist may also be present and assist in the diagnosis.

What treatment is available for vocal cord paresis?

Some vocal cord pareses will recover by themselves within several months. However, there is a possibility that the weakness may be permanent. Treatment choices depend on the nature, the cause of the vocal cord paresis as well as your voice needs.

Speech therapy and surgery are the two common treatment options. Sometimes speech therapy may be used before or after surgery or sometimes as the sole treatment. Your ENT doctor or speech and language therapist will be able to give you advice on the best options for you.

What can I do to help my symptoms?

Following any exercises and advice given by the ENT team or your speech and language therapist is very important if you want to help your symptoms improve.

Consult your doctor if you find that you are experiencing breathing and swallowing difficulties so they can advise you on treatment options. If you have any other questions about the vocal cord paresis, please ask your speech and language therapist (01223 216200) or doctor who will be happy to help.

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Contact us

Cambridge University Hospitals
NHS Foundation Trust
Hills Road, Cambridge

Telephone +44 (0)1223 245151