Your voice is an essential tool in your ability to communicate. Speech can be hampered by a number of different factors affecting the larynx or vocal cords, with causes ranging from viruses and infections to misuse or overuse. Most voice disorders are temporary and do not indicate a serious problem, but it’s best to have a laryngologist evaluate you if you are experiencing a problem with your voice.
Types of Voice Disorders
Symptoms vary depending on the type of voice disorder you are experiencing, but commonly include hoarseness, a raspy or breathy voice, limited pitch and volume, sore throat, and sometimes a complete loss of voice.
Some of the more common voice disorders are:
- Vocal Cord Paralysis. Normally, the vocal cords vibrate during speech to produce sound. When they become paralyzed, they are unable to move, leading to voice problems and issues with breathing and swallowing. Medical or surgical treatments are possibilities, depending on the cause and whether paralysis is affecting one or both vocal cords.
- Nodules, Polyps & Cysts. Benign (noncancerous) growths on the vocal cords are referred to as nodules, polyps, or cysts. They can grow singly or in pairs, and are often the result of vocal cord abuse. They can be treated medically, surgically, or through behavioral therapy, based on their root cause.
- Laryngopharyngeal Reflux Disease (LPR). Acid reflux that affects the larynx and pharynx is known as Lanyngopharyngeal Reflux Disease, or LPR. This occurs when stomach acids flow backwards through the esophagus into the throat, resulting in choking, sore throat, a sour or bitter taste in the mouth, and changes in the voice. Lifestyle changes and medications can usually help manage LPR.
- Larngitis. This inflammation of the larynx is often the symptom of an underlying condition, and can cause hoarseness, a weak voice, and in some cases a complete loss of voice. Treatment depends on the cause, and usually involves antibiotics or other medication.
- Spasmodic Dysphonia. This chronic disorder is characterized by involuntary movements of the vocal cord muscles, resulting in a voice that is quivery, hoarse, or tight. Speech may be normal at times, and nonexistent at others. There is no cure, but treatments – including botox injections and voice therapy – can be effective in managing symptoms.
Not all voice disorders can be prevented, but there are steps you can take to protect your voice from misuse or abuse. Refrain from using an improper pitch or volume; shouting, screaming, and whispering can all lead to long-term problems. If you talk excessively, rest your voice often; certain careers (teaching, acting) place more of an emphasis on speech, and people in these professions should take extra caution. If you are suffering from hoarseness or laryngitis, use your voice sparingly if at all until symptoms clear up.