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Vocal Cord Dysfunction Causes & Symptoms

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What is vocal cord dysfunction?

There are numerous dysfunctions that can affect the vocal cords, and in turn, a person’s voice. Vocal cord dysfunction symptoms usually include partial or complete loss of voice, which sometimes occurs in conjunction with a sore throat or cough. The most common hoarseness and vocal cord dysfunction causes are listed below. If you believe you may be experiencing any of these conditions, it is important to see an ear, nose and throat doctor to help treat your condition and avoid further health complications.

Acute Laryngitis

This is the most common cause of hoarseness or voice loss. Most cases of acute laryngitis occur due to a viral infection, causing swelling of the vocal cords. Because this condition is viral, it usually goes away on its own. The best treatment is to drink plenty of water and rest the vocal cords by speaking as little as possible. Speaking too much while recovering from laryngitis can result in vocal cord damage and lead to further voice problems. If this occurs, patients should seek advice from an ear, nose and throat specialist, such as New York ENT. Other symptoms that warrant an ENT evaluation are shortness of breath or difficulty breathing while recovering from laryngitis.

Chronic Laryngitis

Chronic laryngitis is a term used to describe long-term or repeat episodes of acute laryngitis. If this occurs, it is most likely due to an underlying condition. Common causes of chronic laryngitis are acid reflux disease, yeast infections (in those who use asthma inhalers), exposure to smoke, or other infections. It is important to see a specialist if you have suffered from multiple cases of acute laryngitis within one year.

Voice Overuse

Speaking requires the coordination of several muscle groups in the body, and overuse can cause strain and wear on the body. Using the voice excessively or loudly for a length of time can lead to voice difficulties. This is because, like any other muscle in the body, the vocal muscles can become fatigued or damaged.

Common situations associated with voice overuse include:

  • Yelling in a noisy environment, such as a concert
  • Talking on the phone excessively, especially while holding the phone with the neck (creating an added stress on the vocal cords)
  • Speaking with inappropriate pitch (in a different tone than natural)
  • Public speaking without a microphone

Voice overuse is most commonly seen in those who partake in the above behaviors, and may include individuals who use their voices professionally, such as singers, actors, public speakers or teachers.

Vocal Cord Lesions

Non-cancerous growths can occur and often are the result of injury to the vocal cords, caused by overuse (see above). These growths can alter a person’s voice or create a hoarseness. Vocal cord nodules are one type of growth, referred to as singer’s nodes. These occur on both sides of the vocal cords due to overuse, but are highly treatable when patients see an ear, nose and throat doctor for treatment. Other vocal cord lesions include polyps and cysts, which are also treatable conditions.

Vocal Cord Hemorrhage

A hemorrhage is a blood vessel rupture and can occur many places in the body. When it occurs in the vocal cord, it causes the soft tissues around the area to fill with blood. Vocal cord hemorrhages sometimes occur after yelling or other strenuous vocal tasks, resulting in trauma to the vocal cord. Often, this will result in complete voice loss, and is considered a vocal emergency. Vocal cord hemorrhaging is treated with complete voice rest until it is resolved. If you lose your voice suddenly after strenuous use, contact an ear, nose and throat specialist to diagnose and treat the condition.

Vocal Cord Paralysis

Vocal cord paralysis is a neurological condition that affects the muscles and nerves in the voice box or larynx. Paralysis can affect one or both vocal cords and causes difficulty getting enough air during talking or breathing. Often, noisy breathing is associated with the condition. Vocal paralysis can occur for many reasons, from surgery on the throat or neck to infection or unknown reasons. It is important to see an ear, nose and throat specialist, such as New York ENT to properly diagnose the condition and to begin treatment when necessary.

Laryngeal Cancer

While throat cancer is rare, it is a serious condition that can manifest as hoarseness or other voice abnormality. If you suffer from any change in voice that does not go away within a short amount of time, it warrants an evaluation by an ENT doctor to rule out laryngeal cancer as a possibility. The condition is highly curable if diagnosed in early stages. Consult a specialist with New York ENT for more information.

If you are suffering from vocal cord dysfunction, the first step towards feeling better is to schedule an evaluation with an experienced ear, nose and throat doctor. Board certified physicians with New York ENT have extensive experience diagnosing and treating a wide variety of voice-related conditions. Fill out the form on this page or call our office at (212) 873-6168 to schedule an appointment today.

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