Voice Disorders

The mechanism that generates the human voice is made up of three major parts: the lungs, the vocal cords and the articulators. The lungs act as the pump that supplies air flow and pressure to vibrate the vocal cords. The vocal cords dissect airflow into pulses (soundwaves). The larynx adjusts the length and tension of the vocal cords to affect pitch and tone. Articulators (tongue, palate, cheek and lips) filter soundwaves emanating from the larynx and turn them into words.

You may have a voice disorder if you have trouble controlling pitch, volume, tone or other voice qualities. It means there is something wrong with one of the parts listed above. Symptoms of voice disorders include quivering sound, hoarseness, choppiness, breathiness or unusual pitch. Other symptoms are physical, like feeling a lump in your throat when speaking, feeling tired in your throat or voice box and tenderness on the outside of your throat.

Some examples of voice disorders are laryngitis, or swelling of the vocal chords; vocal cord paralysis, usually caused by infection and spasmodic dysphonia, a nerve problem that causes spasms in the vocal chords. Voice disorders can be caused by growths, inflammation/swelling, nerve problems or hormones.

Voice disorders can occur in the lungs, the larynx or the articulators of the mouth. Symptoms include quivering, hoarseness, choppiness, breathiness, unusual pitch and pain or discomfort around the throat when speaking. They can be caused by growths, inflammation, nerve problems or hormones. Treatment depends on the cause, but common treatments include lifestyle changes, speech therapy, medications and surgeries.

Treatment of voice disorders depends on the cause. Lifestyle changes could help with voice strain from yelling or singing regularly. Speech therapy with a speech-language pathologist (SLP) can help certain voice disorders where muscles are affected. Medicine can help voice disorders that are caused by hormone or thyroid problems. Surgery is also a possibility for those with growths on or near the vocal chords or larynx.

Vocal Cords, Nodules & Polyps

The vocal cords are two mucous membranes that stretch horizontally across the larynx. They vibrate to expel soundwaves from the voice box up to the mouth for articulation. The cords are controlled by the vagus nerve, which opens the membranes for breathing and contracts them for speaking. Nodules or polyps, usually benign, can form on the vocal cords, causing pain, hoarseness and difficulty swallowing. They often go away on their own, but if they affect your quality of life, a doctor can surgically remove them.

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