What Is Vocal Cord Paralysis?

When one of your vocal cords doesn’t open or close properly, it could be because of vocal cord paralysis or paresis (partial paralysis). Vocal cord paralysis occurs when the nerves sending impulses to muscles controlling the vocal cords are damaged.

Healthy vocal cords stay open while you breathe, then close when you speak, vibrating as air from your lungs passes through them. Healthy vocal cords also close when you swallow, to protect the trachea and lungs.

Paralyzed vocal cords result in a breathy or hoarse voice, weak cough and difficulty swallowing. When a vocal cord remains open, food, beverages and saliva can enter the lungs, causing aspiration pneumonia. When a vocal cord remains closed, breathing is impaired.

Vocal cord paralysis and paresis can happen to anyone of any age. Paralysis of a single vocal cord is common, whereas paralysis of both vocal cords is rare and can be extremely serious.