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Vocal Cords

Have you ever thought about how you speak? It seems easy enough: a thought develops and moments later it comes out of your mouth. Speech is actually a complex process that relies on multiple parts.

In order to create sound you must have air. The act of inhaling takes air into the lungs. To speak, air is pushed through the lungs and into your windpipe. On the top of the windpipe sits your vocal cords, known technically as vocal folds. These folds open while breathing and close when producing sound. As air is blown out of the lungs it passes between the two vocal folds and causes them to vibrate. The pitch of your voice is determined by the length and tension of the vocal folds.

The sound that comes from the vibrating vocal folds sounds like a buzzing. That sound passes through the throat, nose and mouth, which work together to change the buzzing into speech.

A disorder that can affect the vocal cords, and thus affect speech, is vocal cord paralysis. Bilateral vocal cord paralysis involves both cords becoming stuck half open and half closed, not moving in either direction. Unilateral vocal cord paralysis occurs when only one side is stuck or has very limited movement.

Hoarseness, a breathy voice, an inability to speak loudly and choking or coughing while eating are all common signs of a vocal cord paralysis. In order to make a diagnosis, your doctor will use an endoscope and look through your nose or mouth. Your doctor will then be able to watch the vocal folds as you speak.

If you are diagnosed with bilateral vocal cord paralysis you may require a tracheotomy, a procedure that creates an opening in your neck, allowing you to breathe and eat safely. Surgery may be needed for unilateral vocal cord paralysis to move the paralyzed vocal fold.

Non-surgical treatments such as behavioral therapy can be utilized. This therapy teaches you how to increase breath support and how to find the best body position for optimizing your voice.