Parents probably all agree that their kids scream too much. It’s a child’s warning system, can be an expression or fear or glee and a way to garner attention. Besides the impact on the hearer’s eardrums, is there a point where a screamer can damage vocal chords? The answer is, unfortunately, yes. On the bright side, it’s usually a temporary condition.
Screamers, or singers for that matter, may develop vocal cord lesions, which refer to a group of noncancerous, abnormal growths within or along the covering of the vocal cord. Vocal cord lesions are one of the most common causes of voice problems and are generally seen in three forms: nodules, polyps, and cysts.
Vocal cord nodules are also known as “calluses of the vocal fold. They appear on both sides of the vocal cords, typically at the midpoint, and directly face each other. Like other calluses, these lesions often diminish or disappear when overuse of the area is stopped.
A vocal cord polyp typically occurs only on one side of the vocal cord and can occur in a variety of shapes and sizes. Depending upon the nature of the polyp, it can cause a wide range of voice disturbances.
A vocal cord cyst is a firm mass of tissue contained within a membrane. The cyst can be located near the surface of the vocal cord or deeper, near the ligament of the vocal cord. As with vocal cord polyps and nodules, the size and location of vocal cord cysts affect the degree of disruption of vocal cord vibration and subsequently the severity of hoarseness or other voice problem.
Surgery followed by voice therapy is the most commonly recommended treatment for vocal cord cysts that significantly alter and/or limit voice. Doctors at the ENT Center of Utah can help determine what procedures are right for you.
A reactive vocal cord lesion is a mass located opposite an existing vocal cord lesion, such as a vocal cord cyst or polyp. This type of lesion is thought to develop from trauma or repeated injury caused by the lesion on the opposite vocal cord. A reactive vocal cord lesion will usually decrease or disappear with voice rest and therapy.
The exact cause or causes of benign vocal cord lesions is not known. Lesions are thought to arise following “heavy” or traumatic use of the voice, including voice misuse such as speaking in an improper pitch, speaking excessively, screaming or yelling, or using the voice excessively while sick.
A change in voice quality and persistent hoarseness are often the first warning signs of a vocal cord lesion. Other symptoms can include:
- Vocal fatigue
- Unreliable voice
- Delayed voice initiation
- Low, gravelly voice
- Low pitch
- Voice breaks in first passages of sentences
- Airy or breathy voice
- Inability to sing in high, soft voice
- Increased effort to speak or sing
- Hoarse and rough voice quality
- Frequent throat clearing
- Extra force needed for voice
The most common treatment options for benign vocal cord lesions include: voice rest, voice therapy, singing voice therapy, and phonomicrosurgery, a type of surgery involving the use of microsurgical techniques and instruments to treat abnormalities on the vocal cord.
Treatment options can vary according to the degree of voice limitation and the exact voice demands of the patient. For example, if a professional singer develops benign vocal cord lesions and undergoes voice therapy, which improves speaking but not singing voice, then surgery might be considered to restore singing voice.
In the end, most of us just need to rest the vocal cords and we’ll all feel better. Speech therapy is usually the next choice for treatment. Even if surgery is required, the specialists at the ENT Center of Utah can diagnose and provide lasting solutions for the issue. To schedule an appointment, please call (801) 328-2522.