The vocal cords (also called vocal folds) are 2 bands of smooth muscle tissue found in the larynx (voice box). The larynx is set in the neck at the top of the trachea (windpipe). The vocal cords vibrate and air passes through the cords from the lungs to produce the sound of your voice. The sound is then sent through the throat, nose, and mouth, giving the sound "resonance." The sound of each person's voice is determined by the size and shape of the vocal cords and the size and shape of the throat, nose, and mouth. Vocal cord disorders affect the vocal cords.
Some of the more common vocal cord disorders include the following.
Laryngitis causes a raspy or hoarse voice due to inflammation of the vocal cords. Laryngitis can be caused by excessive use of the voice, infections, inhaled irritants, or gastroesophageal reflux (GERD, or heartburn).
Vocal nodules are noncancerous growths on the vocal cords caused by vocal abuse. Vocal nodules are often a problem for professional singers. The nodules are small and callous-like. They most often grow in pairs (one on each cord). The nodules most often form on parts of the vocal cords that get the most pressure when the cords come together and vibrate. Vocal nodules cause the voice to be hoarse, low, and breathy.
A vocal polyp is a soft, noncancerous growth, similar to a blister. Voice polyps cause the voice to be hoarse, low, and breathy.
Vocal cord paralysis
Paralysis of the vocal cords may happen when one or both vocal cords doesn’t open or close properly. A common disorder, this condition can range from relatively mild to life-threatening. When one or both vocal cords are paralyzed, food or liquids can slip into the trachea and lungs. A person may have trouble swallowing and coughing. Vocal cord paralysis may be caused by the following:
Treatment may include surgery and voice therapy. Sometimes, no treatment is necessary and a person recovers on his or her own.
Any hoarseness or change in voice that lasts longer than 2 weeks should be brought to the attention of your healthcare provider. (Sometimes the hoarseness may be from laryngeal cancer.)
In addition to a complete medical history and physical exam, the healthcare provider may examine the vocal cords internally with a small scope called a laryngoscope. In the case of paralysis, your healthcare provider may also do a laryngeal electromyography that measures the electrical current in the vocal cords.
Vocal cord disorders caused by abuse or misuse are easily preventable. In addition, most disorders of the vocal cords can be reversed. Your healthcare provider will figure out the best treatment based on:
Treatment may include any of the following:
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