Vocal Cord Paralysis

Vocal cord paralysis can affect your voice, swallowing, and even breathing. At the Duke Voice Care Center, our team of voice specialists will use the latest technology to diagnose your vocal cord paralysis. We will recommend the most appropriate combination of therapy and surgery to help you improve your breathing, swallowing, and speaking as quickly as possible. Appointments are available in Durham and Raleigh.

About Vocal Cord Paralysis

Vocal cord paralysis can occur when the nerve responsible for your vocal cord movement is damaged, preventing one or both of your vocal cords from opening and closing properly. This can be due to trauma, surgical injury, stroke, a virus, or voice box tumors. Depending on the extent of the paralysis, you may have a breathy, weak, soft voice, as well as changes in swallowing and breathing. In rare cases where both vocal cords are paralyzed, it causes difficulty breathing; this requires immediate medical attention.

In some cases, voice quality can be improved with voice therapy alone. There is no surgical procedure to reverse vocal cord paralysis, but for some people, the injury recovers naturally. There are also surgical procedures that "plump up" the paralyzed vocal cord to create a stronger voice and better swallowing. Whenever possible, we use less-invasive techniques, such as in-office injections to bulk up a paralyzed vocal cord.

Why Choose Duke for Vocal Cord Paralysis Care

You'll have access to one of the few comprehensive voice care centers in the Southeast and its team of voice experts.

  • Our ENT doctors and speech pathologists treat all laryngeal conditions, including voice problems, upper airway breathing problems, and swallowing disorders. All of these functions may be affected by vocal cord paralysis.
  • Your care team will include laryngologists -- ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctors with advanced training in voice disorders -- and highly specialized speech-language pathologists with expertise in treating voice disorders and swallowing problems.
  • If surgery is needed, our ENT surgeons have the advanced training and expertise to offer a full range of surgical options for vocal cord paralysis.
  • Our trained singing voice specialists provide specialized therapy to performers and singers. They are experienced performers, singers, and singing teachers who bring empathy, clinical expertise, and an insider's perspective to improving the vocal health of singers and other vocal performers.
  • We coordinate your care with the right specialists throughout our health system to ensure you receive the best therapies to minimize your symptoms, improve your voice and swallowing, and optimize your recovery.
  • Our ongoing research ensures you receive the best, most up-to-date care for your vocal cord paralysis.
Reviewed: 02/22/2018



We will perform a comprehensive evaluation to assess your voice use patterns -- how much you speak, sing, or use a loud voice, and what your voice sounds like. With vocal cord paralysis, your team is listening in particular for a weak, breathy voice, difficulty being loud, and getting tired with speaking. Your laryngologist will evaluate the role of any medical conditions that can cause voice changes, such as surgeries or recent illness. We will perform a head and neck examination and a visual examination of your voice box. Your team will also ask about difficulties swallowing. Further testing may be recommended.

Patient resources

Reviewed: 02/22/2018
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