Trauma from a car accident can affect the body in unexpected ways. Though not a frequent occurrence, vocal cord paralysis can result from trauma to the neck or torso and can be more dangerous than neck injuries, such as whiplash, more often associated with car accidents.
In addition to affecting your ability to speak, vocal cord paralysis may lead to aspiration or breathing problems, each of which has the potential to be life-threatening. However, when you begin having symptoms, you may not immediately make the connection between them and your car accident.
The vocal cords are inside your larynx, i.e., voice box. There are two of them, and most of the time they remain open to allow you to breathe. However, when you speak, they close together and vibrate, producing sound.
Vocal cord paralysis results when something disrupts the nerve signals traveling to your larynx. Trauma to the chest or neck, such as the kind that may occur during a car accident, can damage these nerves. As a result, either or both of the vocal cords can become paralyzed.
Vocal cord paralysis can obstruct your breathing by blocking your airway. This can range from mild to severe. When vocal cord paralysis occurs, it can prevent the airway from closing completely when eating. As a result, you could choke on your food and/or drink or aspirate it into your lungs.
It may be difficult to recognize the symptoms of vocal cord paralysis because they may mimic those of other upper respiratory conditions: ineffective coughing, hoarseness, frequent throat clearing. The sound of your voice may change in regard to volume, pitch and quality, becoming quieter, breathier, etc. When speaking, you may need to take breaths more frequently. You may lose your gag reflex and be more likely to cough or choke when swallowing.
Vocal cord paralysis may resolve on its own, but if it does not, there may be treatment options available. Discuss any troubling vocal symptoms or persistent hoarseness with your doctor.