Speech is a complicated process. The air from your lungs passes over two folds of tissue (vocal cords) in your larynx (voice box). This air triggers a vibration, and when the vocal cord folds touch, they produce a sound. Difficulty controlling your voice’s pitch, tone, or volume 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 for our patients in Surprise, Arizona. Because many people aren’t familiar with the problem, we want to inform you about the two main types of voice disorders and how we treat them.
What is a voice disorder?
Your voice is your own — you’re the only one who sounds like you. A voice disorder, though, changes the quality of your voice in some way. You may become temporarily hoarse or breathy or sound higher, deeper, or softer than another person of your age and gender.
There are two broad categories of voice disorders:
1. Organic voice disorders
These disorders occur because of the inherent structure of your larynx or vocal fold tissues. They may also occur due to certain neurological conditions. In either case, you can’t do much to prevent them.
2. Functional voice disorders
These disorders occur because you use your voice improperly or excessively, such as loud shouting at a concert or constantly clearing your throat.
Causes of organic voice disorders
Organic voice disorders can arise from several causes:
If growths form on your vocal cords, they can prevent the cords from working normally. Cysts (fluid-filled sacs), nodules (callous-like bumps), lesions (damaged tissue), granulomas (areas of chronic inflammation), and polyps (small, blister-like growths) are some of the many possible types of growths.
Inflammation and swelling
Vocal cord inflammation can come from many sources, including allergies, respiratory illnesses (think laryngitis from a bad cold), surgery, and acid reflux.
Some medical conditions can affect the nerves that control the vocal cords. Good examples include multiple sclerosis (MS), Parkinson’s disease, myasthenia gravis, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), and Huntington’s disease. Chronic inflammation of the larynx (laryngitis) is also a major contributor.
Disorders that affect thyroid, estrogen, testosterone, and growth hormones can all lead to voice disorders.
Causes of functional voice disorders
Anything that strains the vocal cords can lead to muscle problems in the throat and a strain on the cords. In addition to shouting, other causes include chronic coughing, smoking, alcohol, and excessive talking.
The abuse may lead to calluses or blisters (nodes or polyps) on the cords, changing the sound of your voice. In extreme cases, the cords can rupture, causing a hemorrhage and a complete loss of voice.
Treating voice disorders
How you treat a voice disorder depends on its cause. Some common treatments include:
Treating an underlying condition can improve voice issues. Antacids may help reflux, and hormone replacement therapy may be used for thyroid, sex, or growth hormone deficiencies.
If your vocal cords experience muscle spasms, injecting botulinum toxin (Botox®) can relax them. If the cords’ folds don’t close properly, injecting fat or other fillers into them may be of help.
Nodes, polyps, and other growths may require surgery to restore proper vocal function. If you have a cancerous tumor, you may need additional treatment, such as radiation therapy.
Lifestyle changes are particularly effective with vocal abuse. Resting your voice and keeping the volume down can both help. Exercises that relax the vocal cords and the muscles around them may reduce symptoms, and warming up before speaking extensively and hydrating while you speak are good tips.
A speech-language pathologist can provide vocal exercises and advise you on how to change speaking behaviors, such as timing deep breaths to power your vocalizations with adequate breathing.
Does your voice sound strange or unfamiliar? To get to the bottom of a possible voice disorder, call Oasis Ear, Nose, and Throat at 623-207-7560, or book online with us today.