A voice disorder occurs when a condition results in abnormal pitch, volume or quality of sound produced by the larynx, also known as the voice box. Similar symptoms occur in a wide range of voice disorders, making diagnosis difficult at times.
Disorders can affect a patient’s voice in a number of ways. Symptoms may include hoarseness; a breathy, raspy, harsh or weak voice; a decreased range in pitch, volume and projection; shortness of breath; vocal fatigue, especially as the day wears on; coughing; chronic throat clearing and loss of voice. If symptoms persist beyond two weeks, seek the advice of a doctor.
Causes of Voice Disorders
Most voice disorders are caused by conditions that are easily treatable and do not pose a serious health risk. Vocal cord abuse is one of the most common (and preventable) problems, accounting for approximately half of all voice disorders. It is the result of using one’s voice inappropriately (e.g. shouting or speaking loudly, whispering, throat clearing and other activities that strain one’s vocal cords). Continued misuse of the voice can lead to laryngitis, nodules, polyps, cysts and vocal fold swelling, which may cause permanent damage.
Preventing voice disorders involves using one’s voice properly. Avoiding the types of vocal cord strain mentioned above and keeping the vocal folds moist by drinking plenty of water when speaking are best prevention practices. Avoid caffeine and alcohol, which can dry out the throat. Try humidifying the air. When addressing large crowds, use amplification devices like microphones.
Treatment for Voice Disorders
Treatment for voice disorders involves a double-edged approach that utilizes both medical treatment (targeted at the underlying condition) and voice therapy. If suffering from vocal abuse, resting one’s voice is key to a speedy recovery. Be sure to stay hydrated by drinking lots of liquids. Medications may be prescribed to treat acid reflux and reduce inflammation caused by allergies or viruses. Surgery may be needed to remove lesions and growths from the vocal cords. Exercises that teach proper breathing and speech techniques and muscle relaxation are often extremely helpful.