Voice is the sound produced by humans and other vertebrates using the lungs and the vocal folds in the larynx, or voice box. Voice is not always produced as speech, however. Infants babble and coo; animals bark, moo, whinny, growl, and meow; and adult humans laugh, sing, and cry. Voice is generated by airflow from the lungs as the vocal folds are brought close together. When air is pushed past the vocal folds with sufficient pressure, the vocal folds vibrate. If the vocal folds in the larynx did not vibrate normally, speech could only be produced as a whisper. Your voice is as unique as your fingerprint. It helps define your personality, mood, and health.
When to See an Otolaryngologist for Your Voice
We often take a healthy throat for granted until our ability to speak, swallow or breathe is impaired. Multiple ailments can affect your throat and interfere with school, work and your overall quality of life. Sore throat or hoarseness lasting more than 2 weeks should be evaluated by your primary care physician. Should your symptoms last more than 4 weeks, an Otolaryngology (ENT) evaluation is recommended to rule out serious conditions of the throat. Whether you have trouble swallowing, persistent throat pain, chronic lump in the throat, swollen tonsils, hoarseness or a worrisome “spot” in the back of your throat, our physicians use their skill and advanced techniques to diagnose your problem, educate you on the condition and recommend treatment to get you back on track.
The signs and symptoms of voice disorders include:
- Hoarseness (dysphonia)
- Vocal fatigue
- Weak or breathy voice
- Loss of singing range
- Loss of voice (aphonia)
- Pitch breaks or abnormally high- or low-pitched voice
- Strained voice
- Vocal tremor
- Pain while speaking or singing
Diagnosis of voice disorders:
To evaluate your condition your physician will attempt to look at the vocal cords, which is often done via a flexible fiber-optic examination of the larynx. This is a good way to identify growths, inflammation, infection, ulcerations or paralysis of the vocal cords. Common conditions that may cause changes in your voice include: Laryngitis (viral, bacterial or inflammatory), Gastroesophageal reflux disease, Vocal cord nodules or polyps. Growths, tumors or cancer of the voice box, Paralysis of the vocal cords, Disorders of the thyroid, Sinusitis, Spasmodic dysphonia (involuntary movements or muscle spasms of the vocal cords), Vocal fold dysfunction (the vocal cords move inward with breathing when they are supposed to move outward). Because the vocal cords vibrate so rapidly, a special examination called Videostroboscopy may be recommended which is also done in the office.
Treatment of voice disorders:
Because there are many different underlying causes and reasons for vocal dysfunction, treatment options vary depending on the nature of the disorder. Treatment options may be very simple such as voice rest, simple medical management, control of environmental or behavioral causative factors, or speech therapy. More severe problems may require surgery, biopsy or other treatments. Diagnosis is the most important initial step after which your physician will make treatment recommendations to you.
Flexible Fiberoptic Examination of the Larynx
A Flexible Fiberoptic Examination involves placing a small, flexible tube through the nose and down the throat to visualize the vocal cords. It is a quick and painless procedure with use of just topical analgesia. It is performed safely and effectively in the office.
Videostroboscopy is one of the most practical techniques currently available for recording and observing the motion of the vocal cords. It allows for easy examination of the vibration of the vocal cords during speaking or singing. Videostroboscopy makes the visual images of the vibration appear to be seen in either stop action or slow motion, allowing minute abnormalities that influence the voice to be seen. From the resulting visual images, an accurate diagnosis of conditions and diseases of the vocal cords, including masses or lesions, abnormal motion, inflammation, broken blood vessels, scarring and other disorders can be made. Videostroboscopy is a simple and painless procedure that is done in the office by an ENT doctor with just an anesthetic spray applied to your nose and throat.