What are vocal cords?

Vocal cords are two folds of tissue inside the larynx (voice box), located at the top of the windpipe, which are needed for normal talking, singing, breathing and swallowing. Your vocal cords open when you are breathing and close when you are swallowing or talking.

In order for you to speak normally, air flows from your lungs to your vocal cords, causing your vocal cords to vibrate to produce sound. The pitch and sound of your voice are determined by the length and tension of your vocal cords, controlled by the muscles in your larynx. Your throat, nose and mouth are also involved in shaping those sounds into words, and notes (if you are singing) and adding resonance to your voice.

If one or both of your vocal cords are malfunctioning, you will have voice problems. Some common vocal cord problems include:
  • laryngitis, a raspy or hoarse voice due to inflammation of the vocal cords
  • vocal nodules, noncancerous growths on the vocal cords caused by overuse or straining the voice
  • vocal polyps, blister-like growths on the vocal cords that can make your voice sound raspy or breathy
  • vocal cord paralysis, a common condition that occurs when one or both vocal cords don't open and close properly
See your doctor if you experience hoarseness or other voice problems that last longer than two weeks.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.