Voice Disorders

What are Voice Disorders?

A voice disorder occurs when you have a problem with your voice, such as when your voice becomes hoarse or when you are unable to produce any sounds at all.

There are several different voice disorders, such as laryngitis, spasmodic dysphonia, paradoxical vocal fold movement, and vocal fold polyps and nodules.

What are the Symptoms of Voice Disorders?

Symptoms that can indicate the presence of a vocal disorder include:

  • Losing the ability to hit high notes while singing
  • Sounding raspy or hoarse when speaking
  • Suddenly sounding deeper than normal
  • Feeling strained, achy, or raw in your throat
  • Finding it difficult to speak

These problems could be the result of a variety of conditions and activities that can cause injuries to the vocal cords.

Voice Disorders Causes

Numerous anatomical structures work together to create vocal sounds, such as the trachea, larynx, tongue, and vocal cords, and the causes of voice disorders may originate in any of these structures.

Voice disorders may be caused by:

  • Hoarseness
  • Laryngitis
  • Allergies
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Colds and upper respiratory infections
  • Sore throat
  • Chronic cough
  • Non-cancerous nodules, cysts, or polyps
  • Pre-cancerous and cancerous lesions
  • Scarring as a result of neck surgery
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Throat cancer
  • Thyroid problems
  • Neurological disorders, such as spasmodic dysphonia, vocal fold paresis, and vocal fold paralysis
  • Dehydration
  • Overuse or misuse of voice (screaming)
  • Viral diseases, such as recurrent respiratory papilloma
  • Psychological stress or trauma
  • Neck trauma
  • Aging

How are Voice Disorder Treated?

Once your voice disorder has been diagnosed and a cause has been found, treatment can be attempted based upon the cause of the problem.

When diagnosed early, a majority of voice disorders can be successfully treated.

Voice Disorders Prevention

By maintaining voice health and avoiding risk factors, some voice disorders may be prevented. Vocal hygiene emphasizes a healthy diet and a non-smoking lifestyle. A diet that includes fruits, vegetables, and whole grains provides vitamins A, C, and E, which keep mucus membranes healthy along the throat lining. Smoking (even inhaling secondhand smoke) can not only irritate the vocal folds but it can also potentially cause cancer of this area. Drinking six to eight glasses of water daily is recommended to keep the voice hydrated, and it’s also important to limit alcohol use, because this can cause dehydration.

People engaged in certain professions that require extensive voice use, such as singers and public speakers, benefit from vocal warm-ups prior to performing and voice training. Using a microphone prevents teachers and public speakers from straining their voices.

Other subtle lifestyle changes you might make to improve throat health, might be to use a humidifier that’s set at 30 percent humidity output. Also, ensure that you take cold and allergy medications that are not as drying to vocal folds as other formulations, and minimize consumption of spicy foods if you’re prone to having GERD problems. Those with persistent GERD problems can consult with a doctor who can prescribe medication or recommend other treatments.

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Last Reviewed:
October 11, 2016
Last Updated:
September 09, 2017
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