Vocal Cord Paralysis

What is Vocal Cord Paralysis?

Vocal cord paralysis can be caused by neck or chest surgery, by benign or malignant growths near the nerve to the vocal cord, by bacterial or viral infections, by certain types of chemotherapy, or by trauma. The trauma may be a neck trauma, a blunt injury to the larynx, or caused by a breathing tube. The vocal cords normally open wide when you breathe to let air into your lungs, and then they come to the midline when you speak in order to compress the air flowing from your lungs and cause high frequency vibration of their cover. It is this vibration that makes the sound waves that create the base for your voice.

If one vocal cord is weak and cannot come to the midline, the result is a fatter stream of air that moves more slowly. The voice is usually breathy, weak, and difficult to project. The speaker may feel fatigue after speaking for only a few minutes. In severe cases, very little sound comes out. The surgery to restore voice can be a temporary filler injection that “spints” the vocal cord in cases where the doctor expects the voice to recover, or in cases where recovery is not expected, a permanent implant may be needed to move the vocal cord into a position where the other vocal cord can meet it to create voice.

If the permanent type of surgery is necessary, a small external incision (usually one inch in length) is used to insert the implant. Dr. Beaver exclusively uses the GoreTex surgical fabric implant for her vocal cord paralysis patients. It has been used for over 25 years in cardiovascular surgery, is customizable to the shape of each patient’s vocal cord, is well tolerated by the body, and does not get infected. It is always soaked in an antibiotic solution prior to insertion and Dr Beaver has performed this surgery over 500 times. The success rate for getting a normal voice is 98%. Very rarely if the paralysis is complete and there is atrophy (wasting or shrinking) of the muscles of the vocal cord over time, more graft material may be required to maintain the midline position of the paralyzed side. Usually though one surgery is sufficient and permanent.