What is a false vocal cord?

Most people are familiar with the membranes in the throat that allow the human body to make noise called the vocal cords. However, many may not be aware of the prominence or even existence of two membranes located near the body's voice boxes. The false vocal cords, also known as the vestibular cords or superior vocal cords, differ from the true vocal cords in several important ways. The true vocal cords are used primarily in the production of the voice, and the general inability of the vestibular cords to produce the sounds associated with speech is what gives these structures the "false" distinction. True vocal cords are also made of more delicate epithelial tissue, which helps give them their ability to vibrate. False vocal cord tissue is thicker and, unlike true vocal cords, can actually regenerate when removed.

A false vocal cord has a simple composition. Layers of tissue called mucous membranes fold to form the basic material of the false vocal cord. Connective tissues known as the thyroid and arytenoid cartilage assist the cords with movement, and the true vocal cords and false vocal cords are collectively known as the thyroarytenoid muscles. The false vocal cords form the top and upper portion of these muscles and thus form part of the supraglottic larynx. This portion of the larynx, although more resistant, is more susceptible to disease: supraglottic tumors constitute almost a third of all laryngeal cancers.

The cords surround connective tissue called the ventricular ligament. This ligament connects to portions of the larynx and thus to tissues in the mouth that regulate swallowing called the epiglottis. The false vocal cords help protect these tissues. The false vocal cord, in turn, helps protect swallowing ability by repelling the entry of a foreign object. One's voice is also protected because the false vocal cords help lubricate the true vocal cords, and they also contain immune response cells that protect the vocal tract from infectious bacteria or fungi.

Although the false vocal cords are rarely used in regular speech, their greatest value in sound production stems from their ability to produce deep tones, such as whoops and growls. The false vocal cord serves as the centerpiece of many alternative and creative vocal activities, such as throat singing, Tibetan singing, and death growl voices. These deep, guttural sounds are produced when the false vocal cords come together and muffle the true vocal cords. Practitioners generally achieve this result by filling the lungs with air and expelling it in such a way as to constrict the throat. However, overuse of this technique can lead to a disorder known as hyperfunctional voice disorder.

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