The vocal cords are the source of vibrations that allow us to communicate through speech. Vocal cord diseases are less known to the general population. Unfortunately, it all affects the voice.
The vocal cords are located in the larynx. In fact, they represent small muscles attached to the top of this structure. Above them, there are folds that are not composed of muscles, called “false vocal cords”. Although they do not perform the same function, they also intervene in speech.
In this article, we will analyze the most common diseases that can affect the vocal cords.
Diseases of the vocal cords
The most common diseases of the vocal cords can be counted on the fingers of one hand. These are the main vocal disorders that people suffer from. Their occurrence is usually conditioned by a certain element of risk. Teachers, for example, because of their profession, are in a constant state of vocal strain. Also, those who work outside in cold climates are prone to dysphonia.
Some disorders have an infectious origin, while others occur due to excessive use of the voice. In this case, anatomical changes occur due to friction between the vocal cords. Sometimes it is quite difficult to diagnose the disease at first, when the symptoms are just beginning to develop.
The most common diseases of the vocal cords are the following:
Let’s take a closer look at each of them.
Vocal cord nodules are benign, voluminous formations. They are located at the ends of the ropes and close the space through which the air should pass. Therefore, the voice is affected.
Usually, the initial symptom is a change in tone of voice. The affected person will notice that he cannot speak as he did before or with the same intensity and tone as before the injuries.
The main cause of voice nodules is excessive voice use. For this reason, experts consider that this is an occupational disease, typical of teachers or singers who use their voice for long periods of time.
However, other people may also suffer from nodules on the vocal cords. Certain risk factors may promote the disorder. Smokers are more likely to develop nodules because nicotine acts as an irritant to the vocal cords. Similarly, gastroesophageal reflux disease is a disease that can damage the same area of the larynx. Stomach acid travels to the airways, eroding mucous membranes.
Fortunately, these nodules are always benign. This means that they cannot develop into a malignant disease such as laryngeal cancer. This allows for a conservative approach at first, with anti-inflammatory and vocal reeducation. Speech therapists are usually the ones who perform this therapy.
If the lump is large enough and does not respond to conservative measures or if there does not seem to be much chance of improving the situation, doctors may choose to perform surgery. Subsequently, the patient will need vocal recovery.
Inflammation of the larynx from various causes is known as laryngitis. Although the term refers to an accumulation of fluid throughout the structure of the organ, laryngitis mainly affects the vocal cords.
For this reason, the most common symptom is dysphonia. The voice becomes hoarse or disappears completely. If it disappears completely, then we call the condition aphonia. Laryngitis is quite persistent, longer than pharyngitis and can last up to three weeks.
Along with the change of voice, there is a dry, irritating cough, caused by the lack of glands in the larynx. Because it cannot be lubricated, the body does not produce the mucus needed to expel the irritant, whether it is a microorganism or an inert foreign body.
The causes are almost always infectious, and viruses are the most common causative agents. The cold season predisposes to most diseases of the upper respiratory tract.
Because they are viral infections, doctors do not recommend antibiotics, unless there is a bacterial superinfection or the cause is a microbe sensitive to these drugs. The treatment is simply symptomatic.
Doctors usually recommend that we rest our voices and take anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce the fluid accumulated in the laryngeal tissues. We can also use nebulizers to make the mucus more fluid. Doctors will not take a sample of the larynx unless they suspect the presence of a bacterial infection.
Finally, we have polyps. They are very similar to nodules, although not exactly the same. In general, polyps are protruding on the vocal cords that obstruct the space through which air should pass.
It is a common disease of the vocal cords, and doctors diagnose it when the patient comes to the control with vocal problems. Loss of voice and change of tone are symptoms that indicate the need for a diagnosis.
Polyps can also occur due to excessive use of the voice, in this case the disease is called “degenerative polyposis”. This shows that the basic process is a change in the tissue of the vocal cords.
Beyond the physical examination, the specialist may perform a complementary test to confirm the presence of polyps. This test is laryngoscopy, performed with a flexible device that is inserted through the nose. With the help of light and a very small room, the specialist can observe the current state of the vocal cords.
What to do if you have one of the diseases of the vocal cords
If you suspect the presence of a vocal node or polyp, it is best to consult an otolaryngologist. This specialist has all the necessary knowledge to establish a correct diagnosis. In case of laryngitis with persistent dysphonia, the family doctor can also help you. Whatever the case, it is best to seek the advice of a specialist before taking medication on your own.