There are more and less common diseases of the vocal cords, but they all have to do with the voice. And it is that these normal anatomical structures are the place where the vibrations that allow us to communicate with speech originate.
The vocal cords are located in the larynx and are small muscles attached anteriorly. Above them are folds that are not muscular and are called “false vocal cords.” Although they do not fulfill the same function, they take part in the phonation.
What are the most popular vocal cord diseases?
The most common diseases of the vocal cords are a few that can be counted on the fingers of one hand. They concentrate most of the voice disorders and do so, especially in people exposed to these pathologies.
They are usually linked to a risk factor. The teachers, for example, because of their profession, are in a constant state of vocal effort. On the other hand, those who carry out activities outside in cold climates are prone to dysphonia.
Some disorders have an infectious origin, while others are typical of overuse, that is, anatomical alterations are formed due to friction between both vocal cords. Sometimes the diagnosis is difficult at the beginning when the signs are only incipient.
We can say that the most frequent diseases of the vocal cords are the following three:
- Let’s get a more familiar look at each of them.
1. Vocal cord nodules
Vocal nodules are benign lump-like formations on the chords. They are located at the limits of the same and close the space where the air should pass. That is why the voice is affected.
The most common is that the initial sign is a change in the timbre of the voice. The person usually perceives that they no longer speak as before, with the same intensity or with the tonality that they had before the injuries.
The primary cause of vocal nodules is overuse of the voice. For this reason, it is considered an occupational disease, typical of teachers or singers who speak for a long time in front of others. Anyway, it is not exclusive to them.
Certain risk factors favor the appearance of the disorder. The smokers are a group of people with a high probability of developing nodules because nicotine acts as an irritant of the vocal cords.
Similarly, gastroesophageal reflux is a pathology that can damage the same area of the larynx. The hydrochloric acid in the stomach leaves its original place and travels to the respiratory tract, eroding the mucous membranes present there.
Fortunately, the nodule is always benign. This means that it does not progress to malignancy like laryngeal cancer. This allows a conservative approach to be considered at the beginning, with anti-inflammatories and re-education of the voice; a task carried out by speech therapists.
If the nodule is of considerable size, does not respond well to conservative measures, or there are several of them with a poor prognosis of improvement, surgery is chosen. Of course, rehabilitation is needed after it.
Inflammation of the larynx for various causes is known as laryngitis. Although the term refers to an accumulation of inflammatory fluid throughout the organ’s structure, the vocal cords are always the most affected.
Therefore, the cardinal symptom is dysphonia, that is, the alteration of the voice that becomes hoarse or disappears completely, in what would be aphonia. It is insidious, much longer than pharyngitis, and can last up to 3 weeks in total.
Along with the change in voice, there is usually a dry, irritating cough, caused by the lack of glands in the larynx. As it cannot be lubricated, the adequate mucus is never manufactured to expel the irritating agent, be it this microorganism or inert foreign body.
The causes are infectious, almost always. Within them, viruses take most of it, and the winter season is the right time where a climate prone to upper respiratory diseases is combined.
Because they are viral infections, antibiotics are not indicated in almost any patient, except when there is a bacterial superinfection, or the cause is a microbe with sensitivity to these drugs. Treatment, then, will be symptomatic.
Rest of the voice, an anti-inflammatory that reduces the accumulated fluid within the laryngeal tissues and nebulizations to thin the mucus are recommended. Cultures are not performed unless bacterial suspicion is very high.
3. Vocal polyps
Finally, polyps are very similar to nodules, although not the same. In general, they are protrusions of the vocal cords that protrude more and more obstruct the space through which the air should pass.
As a common disease of the vocal cords, it is also diagnosed from a consultation for voice problems. Dysphonia and change in timbre are the particular signs that indicate the need for a diagnosis.
They also come from the overuse of the voice, which explains why they are called, in other words, ‘polypoid degenerations. This denotes that the underlying process is a change in the tissue of the vocal cords, tending to protrude outside the corresponding limits.
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Beyond the clinical examination, the specialist can perform a complementary method to confirm the presence of polyps. This study is laryngoscopy, performed with a flexible device that is inserted through the nose, with a very small light and a camera that are responsible for recording the state of the vocal cords live and direct.
What to do if I have one of these common vocal cord diseases?
If you suspect a nodule or a vocal polyp, the ideal is to consult an otolaryngologist. This specialty has enough knowledge to perform the complementary methods that the pathology requires.
In the case of winter laryngitis, with persistent dysphonia, a clinician can resolve it. Be it one way or another. It is always preferable that the evaluation is professional before proceeding with self-medication.