A Unique Type of Paralysis

When you hear the word “paralysis,” what images come to mind? You might imagine a person in a wheelchair or think about some of the injury-defying athletes at the winter Paralympics. One thing that probably doesn’t spring to mind, though, is vocal cord paralysis.

The phrase “vocal cord paralysis” might seem strange to you. How does someone’s voice become paralyzed?

The Role of the Larynx and Vocal Cords

Unlike the commonly-known types of paralysis, which involve damage to the spinal cord, vocal cord paralysis concerns the larynx. Also called the voice box, the larynx is a hollow and muscular organ that acts as a passageway to the lungs. It also holds the vocal cords, two bands of muscle that sit at the entrance to the trachea, or the windpipe. Fueled by the air that comes in through the lungs, the vocal cords vibrate to produce sounds. They also keep food, liquid, and saliva from entering the trachea, which prevents the risk of choking. They might be small, but the vocal cords are very important. However, many people might not realize just how important they are until they suffer a vocal cord injury.

The Basics of Vocal Cord Paralysis

Vocal cord paralysis occurs when the nerve impulses in the larynx are disrupted, causing the muscles to become paralyzed. This can occur for a variety of reasons. A stroke could interrupt blood flow, limiting the brain’s ability to send messages to the larynx, or a tumor could cause damage to the larynx. Vocal cord paralysis can also be the result of inflammation from certain viral infections, like herpes.

Vocal cord paralysis can also result from sudden trauma to the neck or chest. For example, if someone is slammed against their steering wheel after being rear-ended by a distracted driver, the impact could cause damage to the nerves in the larynx, or directly damage the larynx. Vocal damage could be the result of trauma from a car accident, motorcycle accident, assault, or an accident at work, like getting hit with a piece of heavy equipment.

Damage can also be the result of a surgical error. If a surgeon negligently or recklessly makes an error while performing surgery around the neck or upper chest, they could damage a vocal cord and cause permanent damage. This is more likely to occur during procedures that affect the thyroid and parathyroid glands, the esophagus, and the neck and chest. When damage to the vocal cords occurs during surgery, it might be a case of medical malpractice.

Symptoms, Treatment, and Complications

When someone suffers from vocal cord paralysis, they can experience an array of symptoms, including:

  • Hoarseness
  • Noisy breathing
  • Loss of vocal pitch
  • Choking or coughing while swallowing food, drinks, or saliva
  • Loss of gag reflex
  • Ineffective coughing

Some people might only experience mild symptoms, like a slight hoarseness to their voice. In some cases, symptoms go away on their own. In other cases, vocal cord paralysis can lead to serious complications, including breathing difficulty, an increased risk of choking and aspiration, and an increased risk of complications from other throat and chest issues, like pneumonia. When the damage is severe enough to require treatment, options include vocal therapy, bulk injections of fat, collagen, or a similar substance to strengthen the vocal cords, and surgical procedures like vocal cord repositioning, structural implants, or a tracheotomy to improve breathing.

Always See A Doctor

After a traumatic accident or surgical mishap, vocal cord injuries should not be overlooked. Vocal cord paralysis is another example of why it’s always important to see a doctor after an accident or injury—they might catch an issue that you’ve never even heard of.


The attorneys at Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes represent those involved in car accidents, motorcycle accidents, bicycle accidents, pedestrian accidents, and other types of personal injury matters. Our firm is one of the oldest personal injury law firms in Tampa Bay. There are no attorneys’ fees or costs unless we prevail for you. Call our office 24 hours a day at 727-796-8282 or simply click here to schedule a free case consultation.

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