The larynx, commonly called the voice box, is an organ at the top of the throat. The vocal cords are folds of tissue that stretch horizontally over the larynx. They open, close, and vibrate whenever a person speaks. The vagus nerve controls the vocal cords, as well as many other parts of the body, such as the muscles for swallowing and breathing. Occasionally, the larynx, vocal cords, or vagus nerve are damaged or disrupted, causing vocal cord paralysis. This paralysis can directly affect speech and breathing.
The vocal cords press together during speech, vibrating and creating sound. When a person isn’t speaking, they remain relaxed and open to allow for proper breathing. In most cases of vocal cord paralysis, only one of the two vocal cords is affected. A vocal cord that moves improperly can cause many issues such as hoarseness, noisy breathing, and an inability to speak loudly. The person may need to catch their breath while speaking and their voice may have a breathy quality. Frequent coughing that seems ineffective may also be a sign of vocal cord paralysis.