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Vocal fold fixation caused by penetration of a high-velocity steel projectile.


Vocal fold fixation as a result of trauma caused by a foreign body is rare. We report a unique case of vocal fold fixation caused by traumatic penetration of a shard of steel in a 31-year-old steelworker While the patient was at work, an airborne projectile suddenly pierced his neck and entered his larynx, causing progressive hoarseness and dyspnea. Flexible laryngoscopy detected no obvious foreign body, but it did reveal that the right vocal fold had become immobile. Computed tomography revealed that a 2.5-cm sliver of steel had become impacted in the right cricoarytenoid joint, which made the arytenoid cartilage unable to rotate. An emergency tracheostomy was performed with local anesthesia to construct a functioning airway, and then rigid laryngoscopy was performed with general anesthesia. The foreign body was removed with the assistance of a microscope and microscissors. Postoperatively, the patient immediately regained control of his right vocal fold, and he experienced no permanent injury.


The vast majority of cases of vocal fold immobility are caused by recurrent laryngeal nerve paralysis. (1-7) To the best of our knowledge, only 2 cases caused by mechanical fixation have been previously reported in the literature. (8,9) As far as we know, no case of vocal fold fixation caused by traumatic penetration of a foreign body has been reported. In this article, we describe such a case.

Case report

A 31-year-old man presented to us with worsening hoarseness and dyspnea. The patient reported that he worked in a steel mill and that he had sustained a neck injury on the job. An unidentified foreign body had suddenly penetrated the left side of his neck at very high speed.

Examination revealed the presence of a pinhole-sized wound and mild subcutaneous emphysema in the anterior part of the left side of the neck. Flexible laryngoscopy detected no foreign body, but it did identify immobility of the right vocal fold. At this point, the cause of the vocal fold fixation was unclear, but an occult foreign body was suspected. Urgent computed tomography (CT) (figure 1) and three-dimensional CT (figure 2) demonstrated a needle-shaped 2.5-cm foreign body in the right cricoarytenoid joint, which made the arytenoid cartilage unable to rotate.

Because the shard had penetrated the vocal fold, performing a direct intubation would likely have been fatal. Therefore, an emergency tracheostomy with local anesthesia was performed to secure a properly functioning airway. Next, rigid laryngoscopy was performed with general anesthesia. With microscopic enhancement of the surgical field, we pulled the right vocal fold aside and immediately spotted the foreign body, which was a steel sliver. The shard was located just below the right vocal fold. It was vertically oriented, and both ends were firmly stuck in the larynx (figure 3). We used microscissors to cut the sliver in two, and then we removed each piece separately.

Postoperatively, the patient immediately regained control of his right vocal fold. His phonation and respiratory system also recovered, and he experienced no permanent damage.


Of the 2 previously reported cases of recurrent laryngeal nerve paralysis secondary to mechanical fixation, the first was reported by Hanukoglu et al in 1986. (8) In that case, a 3-year-old boy had swallowed some unshelled sunflower seeds, and he subsequently lost his voice. Examination revealed that the shell of one of the seeds had become lodged lateral to the left vocal fold, causing restriction of vocal fold mobility. The second case was reported by Tsunoda et al in 2002. (9) Their patient was a 62-year-old woman who had swallowed a fish bone, which then became stuck in her right cricoarytenoid joint and prevented rotation of her arytenoid cartilage.

Our case is unique in that the foreign body did not enter through the patient's mouth. Rather, the steel sliver had entered the anterior part of the left side of the neck and had become lodged in the right cricoarytenoid joint. Laryngotracheal injuries sustained as a result of penetration are uncommon; those that do occur are often fatal. Another unusual aspect of our case is that a minimally penetrating wound had caused worsening hoarseness and dyspnea in addition to vocal fold immobility.

Given its complexity, laryngeal trauma needs to be diagnosed correctly and treated promptly. Emergency airway management options include endotracheal intubation, cricothyroidotomy, and tracheostomy. According to Grewal et al, however, selected patients with mild laryngotracheal injuries who did not undergo a tracheostomy experienced no increase in morbidity or mortality. (10) Nevertheless, physicians should approach all cases of laryngeal trauma as unique. In our case, the construction of a properly functioning airway by tracheostomy rather than intubation was the better option because it allowed us to avoid causing further injury.

Removing a penetrating foreign body from the larynx as soon as possible is of paramount importance. In our case, the steel sliver was removed with minimal invasion with the use of a rigid laryngoscope rather than via an external approach.

In conclusion, to the best of our knowledge, this is the first reported case of vocal fold fixation resulting from an occupational accident. It is our belief that in patients with a minimally penetrating wound, proper airway control together with a fully detailed CT will minimize mortality. Finally, workers should always be advised to wear appropriate personal protective equipment when carrying out potentially dangerous tasks.


(1.) Poncz M, Schwartz MW. Vocal cord paralysis and mediastinal mass: An unusual esophageal foreign body presentation. Clin Pediatr (Phila) 1978;17(2):196-8.

(2.) von Haacke NP, Wilson JA. Missing denture as a cause of recurrent laryngeal nerve palsy. Br Med J (Clin Res Ed) 1986;292(6521):664.

(3.) Taha AS, Nakshabendi I, Russell RI. Vocal cord paralysis and oesophag-broncho-aortic fistula complicating foreign body-induced oesophageal perforation. Postgrad Med J 1992;68(798):277-8.

(4.) Virgilis D, Weinberger JM, Fisher D, et al. Vocal cord paralysis secondary to impacted esophageal foreign bodies in young children. Pediatrics 2001;107(6):E101.

(5.) Bernstein JM, Burrows SA, Saunders MW. Lodged oesophageal button battery masquerading as a coin: An unusual cause of bilateral vocal cord paralysis. Emerg Med J 2007;24(3):e15.

(6.) Honda K, Tanaka S, Tamura Y, et al. Vocal cord fixation caused by an impacted fish bone in hypopharynx: Report of a rare case. Am J Otolaryngol 2007;28(4):257-9.

(7.) Hung CC, Lee JC, Hsiao LC, Lin YS. Vocal cord immobility caused by the long-standing impaction of a fishbone in the hypopharynx. Laryngoscope 2009;119(1):228-30.

(8.) Hanukoglu A, Fried D, Segal S. Loss of voice as sole symptom of subglottic foreign-body aspiration [letter]. Am J Dis Child 1986;140 (10):973.

(9.) Tsunoda K, Sakai Y, Watanabe T, Suzuki Y. Pseudo vocal paralysis caused by a fish bone. Lancet 2002;360(9337):907.

(10.) Grewal H, Ran PM, Mukerji S, Ivatury RR. Management of penetrating laryngotracheal injuries. Head Neck 1995; 17(6):494-502.

Chau-Shiang Guo, MD; Chi-Kung Ho, MD, MPH; Ruey-Fen Hsu, MD, MPH

From the Department of Otolaryngology, Chang Gung Memorial Hospital-Kaohsiung Medical Center, Chang Gung University College of Medicine, Kaohsiung, Taiwan (Dr. Guo and Dr. Hsu); the Graduate Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, Kaohsiung Medical University, and the Department of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Kaohsiung Medical University-Chung-Ho Memorial Hospital, Kaohsiung (Dr. Ho); and the Department of Otolaryngology, E-Da Hospital, I-Shou University, Kaohsiung (Dr. Hsu). The case described in this article occurred at Chang Gung Memorial Hospital-Kaohsiung Medical Center.

Corresponding author: Ruey-Fen Hsu, MD, MPH, Department of Otolaryngology, E-Da Hospital, I-Shou University, No. 1, Yida Rd., Jiaosu Village, Yanchao District, Kaohsiung City 82445, Taiwan. Email:
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Article Details
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Author:Guo, Chau-Shiang; Ho, Chi-Kung; Hsu, Ruey-Fen
Publication:Ear, Nose and Throat Journal
Article Type:Case study
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2014
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