What Causes Voice Problems?
Hoarseness is a general term used to describe any voice changes. This may include changes in voice quality (breathy, raspy, or strained), volume (loudness), or pitch (high or low).
Probably the most concerning cause of hoarseness is a cancer of the larynx. Smoking and alcohol are major risk factors for cancer. Any smoker who is hoarse should be seen for an assessment.
Voice Assessment and Surgery
Sometimes, surgery on the vocal cords will expedite recovery. Removal of vocal cord nodules or masses will often fail if the initial reasons for vocal abuse are not addressed and removed.
If the reason for hoarseness is related to vocal cord paralysis, voice therapy can improve the voice or a procedure to augment the vocal cord can be done. Patients with this problem often also have difficulty protecting their airway during swallowing and can aspirate food. If the patient also has a weak cough and can’t clear the aspirated food, this can lead to pneumonia. A vocal cord injection with an absorbable material can offer a few months relief for patients with a likely temporary vocal cord paralysis (after an upper respiratory tract infection, recent neck or chest surgery where the nerve that moves the cord is identified and intact but “stunned” after surgery). For permanent paralysis or a paralysis that lasts over a year a permanent but reversible surgery to augment the vocal cord is offered.
Laryngeal cancer (link to throat cancer treatments) is a separate category and is not treated with conservative measures. A biopsy is required for diagnosis but the treatment may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy or a combination of these treatments.
Symptoms that should be addresses:
- Hoarseness lasting longer than two weeks especially if you smoke
- Pain not attributed to a cold or flu
- Unexplained coughing up blood
- Difficulty swallowing
- Lumps or irregularities in the neck
- Loss or severe change in the voice lasting longer than a few days
If you feel you suffer from any of the aforementioned symptoms attributed to your voice, contact us as soon as possible for an assessment.