Voice & Speech Disorders

Voice and speech are instrumental to our lives, contributing to our ability to learn as well as grow and develop professionally. Disorders can hinder our ability to communicate with others and may cause uncomfortable symptoms.

Types of Voice Disorders

Voice and speech disorders lead to abnormal pitch, volume, or quality of sound produced by the larynx. They can result in difficulty speaking, causing problems with articulation and pronunciation. Symptoms often include hoarseness; limits in volume, pitch and projection; voice spasms; and voice fatigue. If any symptoms last longer than two weeks, see a doctor.

Voice and speech disorders can be caused by a wide variety of conditions. Many are easily treatable and aren’t especially serious. Approximately half of all voice disorders can be attributed to vocal cord abuse, which occurs when you use your voice inappropriately. Shouting, whispering, excessive throat clearing and other activities cause vocal cord strain and aggravate the throat. If left untreated, this could lead to laryngitis, nodules, polyps, cysts and vocal fold swelling.

Other factors that can cause voice and speech disorders include allergies, sinus infections, neurological disorders, tobacco smoke, acid reflux, spasmodic dysphonia, vocal cord paralysis, tumors, granuloma, vocal cord scarring or hemorrhaging, papilloma, and Reinke’s edema.

Prevention & Treatment

The easiest way to prevent voice and speech disorders is to avoid vocal strain by using your voice properly. Use a normal pitch and tone, and try not to yell, whisper or clear your throat. Keep your vocal folds moist by drinking lots of fluids (but stay away from caffeine and alcohol, both of which can dry out your throat). A humidifier can add moisture to the air.

Disorders of this type are treated with a combination approach that relies on medical treatment geared at the underlying condition (if one is present) and voice therapy. In some cases, surgery is needed to remove lesions from the vocal cords. Medications may be useful for treating acid reflux and inflammation, while voice therapy will focus on exercises that teach proper breathing and speech techniques, coupled with muscle relaxation.