What is a voice disorder?
A voice disorder is a medical condition that may include impairment in voice quality, pitch, loudness, resonance, stability, stamina and breathing pattern. This could result in dysphonia (vocal impairment to varying degrees) or aphonia (no voice).
Voice disorders may be structural or functional/psychogenic in nature:
- Structural disorders may include growths/lesions on vocal folds
(vocal nodules, polyps, cysts, ulcers, irritants leading to vocal fold swelling), immobility of vocal folds (vocal cord paralysis) or spasmodic or paradoxical movement of vocal folds.
- Functional/psychogenic voice disorders are characterized by dysphonia in the absence of a stuctural pathology (muscle misuse resulting from incorrect vocal technique, emotion/anxiety, etc).
The following factors may predispose, precipitate or perpetuate the development of voice disoders:
- Vocal technique (body posture, breathing pattern, voice production technique)
- Lifestyle (vocal overuseabuse, occupational demands, dehydration, environmental pollutants)
- Acid reflux.
Signs and Symptoms of a voice disorder
Depending on the underlying cause, dysphonia may be characterized by:
- breathy voice
- inability to speak loudly
- limited pitch and loudness variations
- voicing that lasts only for a very short time (around 1 second)
- a “rough” voice
- a “scratchy” voice
- shooting pain from ear to ear
- a “lump in the throat” sensation
- neck pain
- voice and body fatigue.
Diagnosis and Treatment
If you have been suffering from any of the symptoms listed above, a thorough voice evaluation should be done by a physician and a speech-language therapist. Many people receive voice therapy, from a speech-language therapist. Voice therapy involves teaching good vocal hygiene, reducing/stopping vocal abusive behaviors, and direct voice treatment to alter pitch, loudness, or breath support for good voicing. Stress reduction techniques and relaxation exercises are often taught as well.