When we speak, air passes from the lungs through the vocal cords (also called vocal folds), which are two bands of muscle tissue within the larynx, causing them to vibrate. This vibration produces sound. Anything that causes difficulty producing sound naturally and comfortably is a voice disorder, which can be medically treated.
Below are two of the most common voice disorders.
Vocal Fold Nodules
Vocal fold nodules are the result of trauma, usually voice abuse, also called poor vocal hygiene. Examples of poor vocal hygiene include voice overuse during a respiratory infection, singing without warming up first and chronic coughing/throat clearing, usually caused by an underlying condition like gastroesophageal reflux or asthma.
Nodules can be thought of as a type of callus, which can be broken down into soft (early) or hard (late) nodules. Soft nodules are like the calluses that form after someone does a weekend of gardening, while hard nodules are like the calluses that form on the hands of someone whose profession involves manual labor. Vocal cord nodules are confined to the surface of the vocal cord, but this thickening and hardening can interfere with vocal cord vibration.
Voice rest is the primary treatment option for vocal cord nodules, as well as treating any underlying conditions that exacerbate voice problems. For those who experience poor vocal hygiene, speech/voice therapy may be recommended. Surgery is necessary in rare instances of advanced vocal fold nodules.
Vocal Cord Polyps
Vocal cord polyps are also usually the result of trauma or irritation. Polyps are fleshier than nodules, and can be thought of more as blisters. They tend to not form bilaterally, as nodules do; a single polyp on one vocal fold may form after a traumatic event.
Conditions that exacerbate polyps include tobacco smoke, heavy alcohol consumption, gastroesophageal reflux and voice abuse. Occasionally, the entirety of the vocal cords can become polypoid and swollen, which is a form of chronic laryngitis called Reinke’s edema.
Treatment is usually surgical excision, although minor polyps may respond to voice therapy. It is also essential to address the underlying condition.
For more information or to schedule an appointment, call Arizona Desert ENT Specialists today.