Laryngeal nerve damage is injury to one or both of the nerves that are attached to the voice box.
Injury to the laryngeal nerves is uncommon.
When it does occur, it can be from:
- Difficulty speaking
- Difficulty swallowing
Injury to the left and right laryngeal nerves at the same time can cause a breathing problem. This can be an urgent medical problem.
Treatment depends on the cause of the injury. In some cases, no treatment may be needed and the nerve may recover on its own. Voice therapy is useful in some cases.
If surgery is needed, the goal is to change the position of the paralyzed vocal cord to improve the voice. This can be done with:
- Arytenoid adduction (stitches to move the vocal cord toward the middle of the airway)
- Injections of collagen, Gelfoam, or another substance
If both the left and right nerves are damaged, a hole may need to be cut into the windpipe (tracheotomy) right away to allow breathing. This is followed by another surgery at a later date.
The outlook depends on the cause of the injury. In some cases, the nerve rapidly returns to normal. However, sometimes the damage is permanent.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your provider if you have:
- Difficulty breathing (call right away)
- Unexplained hoarseness that lasts for more than 3 weeks
Vocal cord paralysis
Dexter EU. Perioperative care of the thoracic surgical patient. In: Sellke FW, del Nido PJ, Swanson SJ, eds. Sabiston and Spencer Surgery of the Chest. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 4.
Sandhu GS, Nouraei SAR. Laryngeal and esophageal trauma. In: Flint PW, Haughey BH, Lund V, et al, eds. Cummings Otolaryngology: Head and Neck Surgery. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 67.
Review Date 11/4/2018
Updated by: Josef Shargorodsky, MD, MPH, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.