Vocal Cords

Vocal Cords

Vocal cords, sometimes referred to as vocal folds, play an important role in how we produce sounds. First there must be air in your lungs; this occurs through the act of inhaling. The air is then pushed through the lungs into your windpipe. At the top of the windpipe sits your vocal cords. The cords stay open when breathing and close when you produce sound. As the air gets pushed out of the windpipe, it passes between the vocal cords, causing them to vibrate. This vibration sounds like a buzzing. This sound is passed through the throat, nose and mouth, which all work together to change the buzzing into speech. Any disorder that affects the vocal cords will affect your speech.
Vocal cord paralysis can be bilateral or unilateral. Bilateral involves both cords becoming stuck half open and half closed. The cords are unable to move in either direction. Unilateral occurs when only one side is stuck or has very limited movement.

Hoarseness, inability to speak loudly and choking or coughing while eating are common signs of vocal cord paralysis. To make a diagnosis, your doctor will review your symptoms and complete a physical exam. An endoscope may be inserted down your nose or throat so your doctor can get a better look at your vocal cords. Once the vocal cords are in view, your doctor will ask you to speak in order to watch what happens.

If you are diagnosed with bilateral vocal cord paralysis, a tracheotomy may be needed. This procedure creates a hole in your trachea and a tube is inserted to help you breathe. Unilateral vocal cord paralysis may also require surgery to move the paralyzed vocal cord.

Non-surgical treatments such as behavioral therapy may be recommended by your doctor before surgery. This type of therapy will teach you how to breathe better and how to find the best body positon for you to produce strong speech.

Voice Disorders

Voice disorders can occur in the lungs, the larynx or the articulators of the mouth. Symptoms include quivering, hoarseness, choppiness, breathiness, unusual pitch and pain or discomfort around the throat when speaking. They can be caused by growths, inflammation, nerve problems or hormones. Treatment depends on the cause, but common treatments include lifestyle changes, speech therapy, medicines and surgeries.


Laryngitis is inflammation of the voice box due to vocal strain, irritation or infection. Symptoms of laryngitis include hoarseness, voice loss, rawness of the throat, sore or dry throat and cough. Acute laryngitis generally heals on its own or with at-home remedies like rest and drinking warm fluids. Chronic laryngitis is defined as symptoms that persist more than three weeks, which could point to a more serious condition. Seek immediate medical attention if you experience fever, trouble swallowing, trouble breathing, coughing up blood or excessive drooling.