Keeping your voice healthy will ensure you are able to communicate properly, and for some people who rely on it to earn a living – singers, teachers and lawyers, for instance – good voice health is essential. These same individuals tend to put more strain on their vocal cords. Even those whose professions don’t require constant speaking still suffer when experiencing voice-related health issues. It is estimated that 7.5 million people experience voice disorders.
The vocal folds, groups of muscle tissue in the larynx, are normally open to allow breathing. When you speak, they close, and air from the lungs makes them vibrate. This produces sound. The size and shape of the vocal folds and surrounding cavities (throat, mouth and nose) help determine the pitch, volume and tone of your voice. This is what makes it unique. When illness or disease affects your voice, it can change the pitch, volume and quality of sound.
Symptoms of a voice disorder include a hoarse, raspy or weak voice; decreased range in pitch, volume and projection; vocal fatigue; shortness of breath; coughing; sore throat; chronic throat clearing and voice loss. If these symptoms last longer than two weeks, seek the attention of a doctor. An otolaryngologist is the most qualified medical professional for diagnosing voice problems.
The majority of voice disorders are related to conditions that can be treated. They rarely indicate a serious health problem, and they are usually curable.
One of the most common voice problems is vocal cord abuse. This occurs when you use your voice improperly; shouting, whispering and frequent throat clearing can cause strain and fatigue of the vocal cords. Continued abuse can lead to permanent voice damage and a number of serious medical issues such as laryngitis, polyps, cysts and vocal fold swelling.
Other conditions that can affect the voice include upper respiratory infections, acid reflux, tobacco smoke, hormones, vocal nodules, neurological diseases and tumors.
The key to good voice health is prevention. Make sure to use your voice properly; avoid straining the vocal folds with improper pitch and volume, and keep them moist by drinking lots of water, especially when speaking. Limit your caffeine and alcohol intake, as these can dry out the throat. A humidifier is a great way to prevent dry air. If you are experiencing vocal strain, it’s crucial to rest your voice in order to avoid permanent damage.
Voice disorders caused by conditions such as acid reflux or upper respiratory infections can be treated with drugs, while surgery will likely be needed for vocal cord lesions.
Call ENT Associates of Santa Barbara at (805) 964-6926 for more information or to schedule an appointment.
Vocal cords, also called vocal folds, play an important role in how we produce sounds. First there must be air in your lungs, which occurs through the act of inhaling. The air is then pushed through the lungs into your windpipe. At the top of the windpipe sit your vocal cords, which stay open when breathing and close when you produce sound. As the air gets pushed out of the windpipe, it passes between the vocal cords, causing them to vibrate. This vibration sounds like buzzing. This sound is passed through the throat, nose and mouth, which all work together to change the buzzing into speech. Any disorder that affects your vocal cords will affect your speech.
Laryngitis is swelling and irritation of the larynx. It causes hoarseness and, in some cases, voice loss. It can be acute or chronic, but is usually the result of a temporary viral infection or vocal strain and clears up quickly. Persistent laryngitis that lasts longer than two weeks could be a sign of a serious condition and should be evaluated by a doctor. In order for your doctor to get a better look at your larynx, a laryngoscopy will be performed. This procedure involves inserting an endoscope through your nose or mouth to get a closer look at your larynx and watch how your vocal cords react when you speak. The endoscope is a thin flexible tube with a light and a camera on the end.