Dr Pieter Naudé is an ENT specialist and works with a variety of voice conditions.
To produce voice, your vocal cords (2 thin strips of tissue, or membranes) need to come together and vibrate smoothly and symmetrically as air passes over them. Any disruption or swelling of these cords will alter the sound produced. This could be a croaky voice, breathy, weak voice or just the occasional break in your voice, but the broad term for this is "hoarseness" or "hoarse voice".
There are many different causes for a hoarse voice. Changes to the cords themselves, like vocal cord cysts, polyps or nodules, influence the vibration of the cord, just like a piece of bublegum stuck on a guitar string will change the sound it makes.
Smoking causes chronic inflammation of the cords, making them thicker. This makes the voice sound deeper, creating the gruff "smoker’s larynx" voice. Unfortunately smoking is also the cause for throat cancer and larynx cancer, so any voice changes in smokers will have to be investigated. This is usually done with a camera put either through your mouth or though your nose to the back of your throat, looking down to visualise your voicebox.
If you run a marathon without training and exercising, your muscles will be tired and stiff. You might even do yourself an injury in the process. In the same way your voicebox muscles can be overused or strained when you use your voice too much, or too loudly, or even incorrectly for an extended period of time. The vocal cords themselves can get injured and swell up.
Your vocal cords are actually strings of tissue with a lining on the outside. If you use your voice a lot, like singers or teachers, a small little bump can form on the cord, almost like a callus where a shoe rubs your foot. This will have an impact on your voice quality.
Some of the symptoms of singer’s nodules include hoarseness, a decreased range, decreased colour or vibrancy of tone, vocal fatigue and throat discomfort. You can even get neck pain and tightness by unintentionally straining harder to produce the same quality of voice as before.
Singer’s nodules looks like a whitish growth on the middle part of the vocal cords. Not all physicians have the ability to diagnose and treat singer’s nodules. That is why it is necessary to consult with an ENT surgeon who has the equipment, knowledge and expertise to accurately determine whether or not you have singer’s nodules.
Treatment for singer’s nodules usually starts off with voice rest and therapy from a skilled speech therapist. In extreme cases surgery can be offered, but the benefits and risks of this for a professional voice user will be explained by your surgeon.
For more information about the various voice conditions, contact Dr Pieter Naudé today for expert medical advice.