Voice Disorders

Voice Disorders

Keeping your voice healthy will ensure you are able to communicate properly, and for some people who rely on it to earn a living – singers, teachers and lawyers, for instance – good voice health is essential. These same individuals tend to put more strain on their vocal cords. Even those whose professions don’t require constant speaking still suffer when experiencing voice-related health issues. It is estimated that 7.5 million people experience voice disorders.

How the Voice Works

The vocal folds, groups of muscle tissue in the larynx, are normally open to allow breathing. When you speak, they close, and air from the lungs makes them vibrate. This produces sound. The size and shape of the vocal folds and surrounding cavities (throat, mouth and nose) help determine the pitch, volume and tone of your voice. This is what makes it unique. When illness or disease affects your voice, it can change the pitch, volume and quality of sound.

Symptoms of a voice disorder include a hoarse, raspy or weak voice; decreased range in pitch, volume and projection; vocal fatigue; shortness of breath; coughing; sore throat; chronic throat clearing and voice loss. If these symptoms last longer than two weeks, seek the attention of a doctor. An otolaryngologist is the most qualified medical professional for diagnosing voice problems.

Common Voice Problems

The majority of voice disorders are related to conditions that can be treated. They rarely indicate a serious health problem, and they are usually curable.

One of the most common voice problems is vocal cord abuse. This occurs when you use your voice improperly; shouting, whispering and frequent throat clearing can cause strain and fatigue of the vocal cords. Continued abuse can lead to permanent voice damage and a number of serious medical issues such as laryngitis, polyps, cysts and vocal fold swelling.

Other conditions that can affect the voice include upper respiratory infections, acid reflux, tobacco smoke, hormones, vocal nodules, neurological diseases and tumors.

Keeping Your Voice Healthy

The key to good voice health is prevention. Make sure to use your voice properly; avoid straining the vocal folds with improper pitch and volume, and keep them moist by drinking lots of water, especially when speaking. Limit your caffeine and alcohol intake, as these can dry out the throat. A humidifier is a great way to prevent dry air. If you are experiencing vocal strain, it’s crucial to rest your voice in order to avoid permanent damage.

Voice disorders caused by conditions such as acid reflux or upper respiratory infections can be treated with drugs, while surgery will likely be needed for vocal cord lesions.

Hoarseness

Hoarseness is an inflammation of the larynx that results in a change in the voice, making it sound breathy, raspy, scratchy or strained. There may be changes in volume and pitch, as well. Hoarseness falls under the medical category of dysphonia, which refers to voice impairment or any sort of difficulty speaking.

Causes

Hoarseness is the result of a problem with the vocal cords. It can be caused by a variety of different conditions including cold or sinus infections, acute laryngitis, voice misuse or abuse, benign vocal cord lesions, acid reflux, vocal hemorrhage, tobacco and alcohol use, thyroid diseases, cancer, trauma to the voice box and neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s or spasmodic dysphonia, a chronic vocal cord disorder.

Treatment

Many times, hoarseness clears up on its own without any sort of medical intervention. Many patients take a wait-and-see approach, treating symptoms with home remedies that include resting the voice, staying hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids and using a humidifier to add moisture to the air. Making certain lifestyle changes – eliminating spicy foods, alcohol and caffeine from the diet, giving up cigarettes, avoiding activities that cause vocal cord strain such as shouting, whispering, or using inappropriate pitch or volume – are all helpful ways to reduce or eliminate the symptoms associated with chronic hoarseness.

Sometimes, a trip to see an otolaryngologist or other ENT specialist is necessary. If hoarseness lasts longer than three weeks, is not accompanied by cold or flu symptoms, affects your ability to swallow or breathe or otherwise interferes with your livelihood, schedule an appointment with [company1]. You will be given a thorough physical examination, including the ears, nose, and throat, and may be given a laryngoscopy or other special test to help analyze the vocal folds.

Treatment depends on the cause and may include drugs, surgery, and/or voice therapy.

Vocal Cords

Vocal cords, also called vocal folds, play an important role in how we produce sounds. First there must be air in your lungs, which occurs through the act of inhaling. The air is then pushed through the lungs into your windpipe. At the top of the windpipe sit your vocal cords, which stay open when breathing and close when you produce sound. As the air gets pushed out of the windpipe, it passes between the vocal cords, causing them to vibrate. This vibration sounds like buzzing. This sound is passed through the throat, nose and mouth, which all work together to change the buzzing into speech.

Paralysis

Any disorder that affects your vocal cords will affect your speech.

Vocal cord paralysis can be bilateral or unilateral. Bilateral paralysis means both cords become stuck half open and half closed, and the cords are unable to move in either direction. Unilateral paralysis occurs when only one side is stuck or has very limited movement.

Hoarseness, an inability to speak loudly and choking or coughing while eating are common signs of vocal cord paralysis. To make a diagnosis, your doctor will review your symptoms and complete a physical exam. An endoscope will be inserted down your nose or throat so your doctor can get a better look at your vocal cords. Once the vocal cords are in view, your doctor will ask you to speak in order to watch what happens.

Treatment

If you are diagnosed with bilateral vocal cord paralysis, a tracheotomy may be needed. This procedure creates a hole in your trachea, and a tube is inserted to help you breathe. Unilateral vocal cord paralysis may also require surgery to move the paralyzed vocal cord.

Non-surgical treatments such as behavioral therapy may be recommended by your doctor before surgery is needed. This type of therapy will teach you how to breathe better and how to find the best body positon for you to produce strong speech.

Laryngitis

Laryngitis is swelling and irritation of the larynx (voice box). It causes hoarseness and, in some cases, voice loss. It can be acute (short-lived) or chronic (long-lasting), but is usually the result of a temporary viral infection or vocal strain and clears up quickly. Persistent laryngitis that lasts longer than two weeks could be a sign of a serious condition and should be evaluated by a doctor.

Causes

Your vocal cords, located inside the larynx, work by opening and closing, forming sounds when they vibrate. But when they become inflamed sounds are distorted, making your voice sound hoarse and – in some cases – indiscernible. This can be caused by a number of factors including colds and viral infections, allergies, misuse of the voice, bacterial infections, acid reflux, sinus infections, vocal cord lesions and smoking. A certain degree of hoarseness is common as we age.

Symptoms

Hoarseness is the main symptom associated with laryngitis. Your voice can take on a raspy or breathy quality, may be deeper than usual and can break or crack. Some people lose their voice altogether. In addition to hoarseness, you may experience a dry or sore throat, coughing and difficulty swallowing.

Treatment

Treatment for laryngitis depends on what is causing your symptoms. To find this out, your doctor will review your medical history and complete a physical exam. In order for your doctor to get a better look at your larynx, a laryngoscopy will be performed. There are two ways to perform a laryngoscopy. One involves a light and a series of mirrors, once positioned correctly your doctor is able to see down your throat. The second type is the preferred method and involves inserting an endoscope through your nose or mouth. The endoscope is a thin flexible tube with a light and a camera on the end. Either of these versions will allow your doctor to take a closer look and watch how your vocal cords react when you speak.

Home remedies are often the best treatment for laryngitis, especially when it’s acute. Your main priority should be resting your voice, using it only when absolutely necessary. Attempting to speak while suffering from laryngitis can result in permanent damage of your vocal cords. Keep hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids and avoid alcohol and caffeine, which can lead to dehydration. A warm saltwater gargle several times a day can help relieve discomfort. Stay away from cigarettes, which can cause irritation and may worsen your condition.

Call Eastern Shore ENT & Allergy at (410) 742-1567 for more information or to schedule an appointment.