Acute Vocal Fold Paresis and Paralysis After COVID-19 Infection: A Case Series

Ann Otol Rhinol Laryngol. 2022 Sep;131(9):1032-1035. doi: 10.1177/00034894211047829. Epub 2021 Oct 13.


Objective: Evidence demonstrates neurotropism is a common feature of coronaviruses. In our laryngology clinics we have noted an increase in cases of "idiopathic" vocal fold paralysis and paresis in patients with no history of intubation who are recovering from the novel SARS-Cov-2 coronavirus (COVID-19). This finding is concerning for a post-viral vagal neuropathy (PVVN) as a result of infection with COVID-19. Our objective is to raise the possibility that vocal fold paresis may be an additional neuropathic sequela of infection with COVID-19.

Methods: Retrospective review of patients who tested positive for COVID-19, had no history of intubation as a result of their infection, and subsequently presented with vocal fold paresis between May 2020 and January 2021. Charts were reviewed for demographic information, confirmation of COVID-19 infection, presenting symptoms, laryngoscopy and stroboscopy exam findings, and laryngeal electromyography (LEMG) results.

Results: Sixteen patients presented with new-onset dysphonia during and after recovering from a COVID-19 infection and were found to have unilateral or bilateral vocal fold paresis or paralysis. LEMG was performed in 25% of patients and confirmed the diagnosis of neuropathy in these cases.

Conclusions: We believe that COVID-19 can cause a PVVN resulting in abnormal vocal fold mobility. This diagnosis should be included in the constellation of morbidities that can result from COVID-19 as the otolaryngologist can identify this entity through careful history and examination.

Keywords: COVID-19; coronavirus; laryngeal electromyography; post-viral vagal neuropathy; vocal fold paralysis; vocal fold paresis.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19* / complications
  • Electromyography / methods
  • Humans
  • Paresis* / diagnosis
  • Paresis* / etiology
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Vocal Cord Paralysis* / diagnosis
  • Vocal Cord Paralysis* / etiology
  • Vocal Cords / pathology