Saturday, June 30, 2012

So what is vocal cord paralysis anyway?

There are many different types of voice disorders. There are two kinds of vocal cord paralysis: bilateral and unilateral.

I have unilateral vocal cord paralysis on the right side. The paralysis was a result of a PDA ligation (heart surgery to close a valve) when I was 7 days old. I have had this voice since I was a baby. I was "officially" diagnosed by an ENT (Otolaryngologist) a couple years after high school. Up until then, I knew my voice was different, but didn't really know why.

So, what are the symptoms and what is life life with a paralyzed vocal cord? According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology symptoms include:

So, how do these typical symptoms translate into real life?
Both paresis and paralysis of voice box muscles result in voice changes and may also result in airway problems and swallowing difficulties.

Voice changes: Hoarseness; breathy voice; extra effort on speaking; excessive air pressure required to produce usual conversational voice; and diplophonia (voice sounds like a gargle).

Airway problems: Shortness of breath with exertion, noisy breathing, and ineffective cough.

Swallowing problems: Choking or coughing when swallowing food, drink, or even saliva, and food sticking in throat.
(More fun facts can be found at

My personal experience may be differnt from others with VCP, but here is a very brief look at what I experience on a daily basis:


  • Hoarseness - often asked if I am sick or have laryngitis
  • Breathy - soft, not clear/crisp, you can hear the extra air passing through
  • Extra effort on speaking - Often when talking to more than one person, especially in social settings (ie restaurant, on the street, mall, etc.) Voice will feel strained.
  •  "Gargled voice" - I often get excess mucus accumulation in my throat. I take guafinesen on a daily basis to combat this. (Drinking water helps too)
  • Laryngospams - Or vocal cord spasms - no fun what-so-ever. This happens randomly and when I don't take the guafinesen daily.  
Airway problems:
  • Shortness of breath with exertion - this what makes running a challenge
  • Noisy breathing - will sound wheezy at times
  • Ineffective cough - really only have a problem with this when I am ill
Swallowing problems:
  • Choking or coughing when swallowing food, drink, or even saliva, and food sticking in throat - luckily I have only had limited problems with this. The only problems I have had were mostly related to a medialization implant that extruded into my airway. (Another story for another day!) Had the implant removed and not has as much trouble with it since.
I think every person who has VCP deals with it in their own way. I have been through six surgeries. The first one to "fix" my cord and make me sound normal. The other five have been to "fix the fix".

I have tried pretty much every to "fix" medically available at the present time. I am at the end of the line. I am to a point in my life where I am working to not only accept but to EMBRACE who I am and how I sound. I believe God gave me this voice for a reason.

I am determined to acheive great things. Things I never thought possible before!


  1. Hi-have you found that your surgery made it even harder to breathe when you run? I have a paralyzed right vocal fold and it is difficult to run as is. I was told that surgery to correct it would make it even harder to breathe during exercise because the vocal fold would be closer to the midline but more rigid. Do you still run at all?

  2. My left vocal cord is paralyzed (diagnosed in June). It has been like this since March. I had to stop running altogether because i can't catch my breath. My doctor is hesitant to do surgery because he wants it to fix it on its own. May I ask why it took six surgeries for you? I am an ultra runner and finished my first 100 miler last August so I'm very disappointed this summer to miss out on training because of my breathing.