Voice and Swallowing Disorders
Having your voice or ability to swallow disturbed or impaired can have a tremendous impact on daily life, in all areas of it. The causes of voice and swallowing disorders can be wide-ranging, from cancer to overuse of the vocal cords, as there are many types of conditions a person can develop.
Below we have listed swallowing and voice disorders along with a description of the conditions and treatments for them.
What are Voice and Swallowing Conditions?
Both voice disorders and swallowing disorders can refer to many conditions that affect the voice or the ability to swallow. Breathing, eating, and speaking are all important basic functions that are essentially ingrained in us, occurring in the throat and the immediate surrounding areas. Conditions that affect only one of these functions aren’t uncommon, but usually, all three are impacted by voice and swallowing disorders.
Voice Disorders & Swallowing Disorders
- Laryngitis: an inflammation of the larynx, the most common disorder affecting the voice. The inflammation itself can be a symptom of another disorder. The symptoms include hoarseness and loss of voice, sometimes pain when swallowing. Treatment includes resting the voice as much as possible, drinking more fluids, or antibiotics if caused by a bacterial infection.
- Spasmodic Dysphonia: a neurological disorder characterized by inappropriate contraction, or tightening, of muscle groups. Symptoms include strained or strangled voice quality, breathy and effortful voice, and abrupt breaks in sound. The most effective treatment currently is an injection of a type of botox into the laryngeal muscles via the neck, below the adam’s apple.
- Vocal Fold Motion Impairment: There are two major types of this disorder: unilateral, which is more common, and bilateral. The types differ in their symptoms, treatment, and seriousness. With unilateral paralysis, patients have a weak and breathy voice, speaking requiring much more effort than usual due to the vocal folds being unable to close completely during swallowing. Coughing and choking while drinking and eating are also common symptoms. For the bilateral type, patients may experience the above symptoms but this can mean a more serious complication. The treatment for either type is a combination of surgery and voice therapy, specifically the medialization thyroplasty surgical procedure and the injection of small amounts of materials into the vocal fold to push the fold and restore function.
- Polyps: benign lesions that can develop where the front and middle third of the vocal fold edge meet. Symptoms include hoarseness, breathiness, and vocal roughness, often accompanied by the sensation of something being “stuck” in the throat. The treatment for polys is surgical removal and sometimes voice therapy to facilitate the healing process and minimize recurrence.
- Cysts and Nodules: These are benign growths that can affect all ages and groups of people. The primary difference between the two is their location and treatments, nodules are found on both sides of the vocal folds and the junction of the front and middle third of the free edge while cysts are usually found on one side and can appear anywhere on the fold. Vocal nodules are treated with voice therapy and in some cases, surgery. Cysts are treated primarily by surgical removal with voice therapy following to help decrease swelling.
- Contact Graunuloma & Contact Ulcers: formed as a result of an injury to the delicate tissues of the larynx. Symptoms include the sensation of something in the throat, constant and harsh throat-clearing, sometimes hoarseness, and husky voice quality. If there is pain, it is described as a sharp and stabbing sensation that can radiate to the ear. Treatment includes inhaled steroids and an antireflux regimen with voice therapy to follow. Surgery is only recommended as a last resort.
- Laryngeal Cancer: as with all cancers, this is caused by the uncontrolled division of a body’s cells. The symptoms depend on the size and location of the tumor, but often changes in vocal quality and hoarseness are the first symptoms. If grown large enough, the tumors can interfere with the airway and make it difficult to breathe. The treatment depends on the size and stage of the tumor, as well as the age and health of the patient. Typical treatments include radiation therapy, chemotherapy, surgery, or a combination of them.
- Paradoxical Vocal Cord Dysfunction: a condition that causes shortness of breath or stridor, which are high-pitched or gasping sounds coming from the throat. Often mistaken for asthma, the patient feels like their airway is closing and is most often found in teenage athletes, but can occur in any age group. Symptoms include shortness of breath, a feeling of tightness in the upper chest and/or throat areas, as well as difficulty breathing in vs breathing out. Voice therapy is the usual treatment for VCD.
- Dysphagia, Swallowing Disorders: can include choking, feeling as though food or liquid hangs up in the throat, frequent coughing before, during, or after eating, difficulty managing saliva, frequent respiratory infections, and regurgitation after swallowing. If any of these symptoms appear, a doctor or specialist should be sought out for a proper diagnosis as swallowing difficulty is associated with high levels of illness, such as a stroke or Parkinson’s disease, and many others.