The laryngeal nerves attach to the larynx (the voice box). Laryngeal nerve damage can be caused by a variety of medical conditions.
There are two laryngeal nerves-one on the right and one on the left. These nerves help move the vocal cords, allowing a person to talk. They also help prevent food from going into the windpipe, or trachea. Damage to these nerves usually produces symptoms.
Damage to the laryngeal nerves may cause: hoarsenessinhalation of food or bacteria into the lungs, which causes aspiration pneumoniadifficulty breathing, or shortness of breath
A person may also have other symptoms depending upon the underlying cause of the nerve damage.
Causes of laryngeal nerve damage include: injury, which may occur unintentionally during surgery or other medical proceduresstrokestumors, or growths, that can invade the nerveinfection, resulting in inflammation or destruction of the nerveenlarged arteries, which may press on the nervediseases of the nervous system
Usually, nothing can be done to prevent laryngeal nerve damage.
A person's symptoms and the findings of a physical exam make the healthcare professional suspect laryngeal nerve damage. The diagnosis can sometimes be confirmed with swallowing studies, or with a procedure known as endoscopy.
Endoscopy involves inserting a thin tube through the mouth and into the vocal cords. The tube has a camera on the end of it that allows the doctor to view the vocal cords and check their function. This procedure, as well as other tests such as x-rays, may also help uncover the cause of the nerve damage.
Damage to the laryngeal nerves is often permanent. This may cause lifelong voice or breathing problems.
Laryngeal nerve damage is not contagious, and poses no risk to others.
Treatment varies depending on the cause and extent of the laryngeal nerve damage, but may include: surgery to help prevent lung infections or relieve breathing problemsshort-term use of a ventilator, an artificial breathing machinea tracheostomy, which is a surgical opening into the windpipe to allow breathingantibiotics, if a lung infection occurssurgery or medication to treat the underlying cause of the nerve damage. For example, a tumor may need to be surgically removed.
Medications can cause side effects such as allergic reactions and stomach upset. Surgery can be complicated by bleeding, infection, or reactions to the anesthesia.
Laryngeal nerve damage is often permanent. A person may be able to return to his or her normal activities after treatment. In some cases, the individual will need voice retraining with a speech therapist. Treatment may have to continue for the rest of a person's life depending upon the underlying cause of the nerve damage.
Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcare professional.
Sabiston Textbook of Surgery, 1997, Sabiston et al.