Speech is a complicated process. In humans, you force air out of your lungs, which passes over two folds of tissue (vocal cords) in your larynx (voice box). The air triggers a vibration in the vocal cords which, when they touch, produce a sound. If you have any problem with the pitch, tone, or volume of your voice, it means your vocal cords aren’t vibrating normally — this is known as a voice disorder. It may be temporary or permanent, depending on the cause.
At Oasis Ear, Nose, and Throat, Dr. James Osborne and Dr. Bryan Smedley diagnose and treat voice disorders at their Surprise, Arizona office. As many people aren’t familiar with the problem, they want to inform you about the causes, types, and symptoms of common disorders, as well as the way they’re treated.
Possible causes can include:
If extra tissue forms on the vocal cords, it can prevent the cords from working normally. Types of growths include:
Inflammation of the vocal cords can come from many sources. These include respiratory illness (think hoarseness or laryngitis), allergies, surgery, GERD, medication side effects, smoking, alcohol, and voice overuse or abuse.
Underlying medical conditions can affect the nerves controlling the vocal cords. Some conditions include multiple sclerosis (MS), Parkinson’s disease, myasthenia gravis, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), and Huntington disease. Surgery or chronic inflammation of the larynx (laryngitis) are also common sources.
Disorders affecting thyroid hormone, estrogen or testosterone, and growth hormones can lead to voice disorders.
A functional rather than structural problem, vocal abuse is anything that strains the vocal cords, which leads to muscle problems in the throat and a strain on the cords. Examples include excessive talking, shouting, loud singing, or coughing, smoking, and constant throat-clearing. The abuse may cause calluses or blisters (nodes or polyps) to form on the cords, changing the sound of your voice. In excessive cases, the cords can even rupture, causing a hemorrhage and loss of voice.
Dysphonia is the umbrella term referring to the many possible symptoms of vocal disorders. You can have just one or many symptoms. The 10 most common signs include:
How you treat a voice disorder depends on its cause. It’s important to know that while treatment may alleviate some of your symptoms, other symptoms can appear as a result of the treatment. Some common treatments include:
If your voice disorder is caused by an underlying medical condition, you may be able to treat it with medication. For example, antacids may be helpful for GERD, and hormone replacement may be used for issues with thyroid, sex, or growth hormones.
If your vocal cords experience muscle spasms, injections of botulinum toxin (Botox®) may relax them. If the problem is that the folds don’t close properly, injections of fat or other fillers may be of use.
Nodes, polyps, and other growths may need to be surgically removed to restore proper vocal function. If a cancerous tumor is the problem, you may need additional treatment such as radiation therapy.
Lifestyle changes can be particularly effective with vocal abuse. Not yelling or speaking loudly, or resting your voice if you regularly sing, can help. Exercises that relax the vocal cords and the muscles around them may also reduce symptoms, and staying hydrated and warming up before speaking extensively are always good tips.
A speech-language pathologist can help with some voice disorders. Therapy may include exercises and changes in speaking behaviors, such as timing deep breaths to power your vocalizations with adequate breathing.
If you’ve noticed a change in how you speak or in the quality of your voice, it’s time to come into Oasis Ear, Nose, and Throat for an evaluation. Give the office a call at 623-234-4640, or book your consultation online.