The gift of speech is often taken for granted until disease or injury takes it away or makes it difficult to communicate.  In the United States, an estimated 7.5 million Americans have difficulty using their voices, according to information National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.  Those with these difficulties often have problems controlling the volume, pitch or quality of their voices. Some have difficulty using their voice at all and may require vocal cord surgery.

Three of the most common vocal cord injuries or diseases are laryngitis, polyps, and paralysis. To completely understand the effect these conditions have on everyday life, it’s important to review how the vocal cords create sound.

How Do the Vocal Cords Work?

Located above the windpipe, the vocal cords are bands of muscle tissue that are in the larynx, also called the voice box. When you speak, air is forced through the cords, causing them to vibrate to produce sounds. Faster vibrations produce higher sounds while slower ones produce low tones. When you’re not speaking, the vocal cords are at rest (open). Just like your other muscles, the vocal cords can become sore, inflamed or strained.

Who Is At Greater Risk of Vocal Cord Injuries or Diseases?

Anyone can develop a vocal cord injury, but those who use their voices for a living – like teachers or performers—are at a higher risk, according to information from the Cleveland Clinic. Excessive smoking, coughing or screaming strain the vocal cords. Chronically misusing your voice can put you at a higher risk of hoarseness

Thyroid surgery can also affect your voice box. In addition, if you have had a breathing tube either during hospitalization or when under general anesthesia, you could experience problems with your voice.

Common Vocal Cord Injuries


Laryngitis results from inflammation, irritation or swelling of your voice box. It causes severe hoarseness or even the complete loss of your voice.

  • How Is Laryngitis Treated?

Because laryngitis is often caused by a virus, it typically goes away on its own after a week or two. Laryngitis can be treated by resting your voice, drinking plenty of fluids and keeping your throat moist, according to information from the Mayo Clinic

However, if you have chronic laryngitis, your Raleigh Capitol ENT doctor needs to determine the underlying cause in order to discover the most effective treatment. Chronic laryngitis is caused by conditions such as heartburn, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol or smoking. Your doctor will also check to be sure that your laryngitis isn’t caused by a growth or a tumor.

Vocal Cord Polyps

These are small growths that are caused by overuse, vocal abuse or long-term exposures to irritants and allergens such as cigarette smoke.

  • How Are Vocal Cord Polyps Treated?

Treatments include:

  • Resting your voice.
  • Phonomicrosurgery, a type of vocal cord surgery that uses tiny instruments to treat any abnormalities.
  • Singing voice therapy.
  • Voice therapy or working with a speech therapist.

Vocal Cord Paralysis

Vocal cord paralysis occurs when the nerve to the vocal cord is injured. This most commonly results in moderate or severe hoarseness. Occasionally, this can cause breathing or swallowing difficulties. Vocal cord paralysis is typically caused by a viral infection, neck surgery, trauma or neurological disease.

  • How Is Vocal Cord Paralysis Treated?

Vocal cord paralysis is treated with voice therapy and surgery. For mild hoarseness, voice therapy can be effective. Sometimes, vocal cord paralysis will resolve with time. For more severe hoarseness or for those who do not improve with voice therapy, surgery is usually recommended.

Raleigh Capitol Ear, Nose and Throat Is the Area’s Leading Provider of ENT Services

Hoarseness is quite common and is often caused by a cold, virus or allergies, however, sometimes this symptom can indicate a more serious condition. If you experience hoarseness that lasts for more than one week, you should be evaluated by one of the specialists at RCENT. Our team implements state-of-the-art techniques with compassionate care to create an environment of excellence in patient care. Schedule an appointment today.


Raleigh Capitol Ear, Nose, and Throat is the area's premiere physician-owned ENT practice with six convenient locations throughout Wake County. Our board-certified physicians have extensive experience in treating both common and complex cases to help adults and children alike. For more information or to schedule an appointment, contact us.


American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery.

Cleveland Clinic. “Laryngology.” Online.

Harvard Medical School / Harvard Health Publishing. “Vocal Cord Disorders.” Online.

Mayo Clinic. “Laryngitis Diagnosis and Treatment.” Online.

National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.  “Statistics on Voice, Speech and

Language. “ Online. 

U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Laryngitis.” Online.