A voice disorder occurs when the pitch, loudness, or quality of the voice distracts from what the speaker is saying.
Voice is the sound produced by movement of the vocal folds (vocal cords) located in the larynx (pronounced LAR-inks), commonly called the voice box. The larynx is located at the bottom of the throat. Voice is produced when the vocal folds vibrate as air from the lungs passes through them. An optimal speaking technique occurs when there is a well-coordinated balance of airstream and muscle effort from the vocal folds.
A voice disorder occurs when the pitch, loudness, or quality of the voice distracts from what the speaker is saying. It is also a problem if the speaker experiences pain or fatigue when speaking or singing. There is also a laryngeally based respiratory disorder called vocal cord dysfunction (or paradoxical vocal fold motion) that does not always include changes to the voice but often has symptoms of chronic cough or throat clearing, odor sensitivities, and shortness of breath.
There are a variety of causes of voice disorders. Vocal folds can be damaged by prolonged use of a speaking technique that is not efficient or optimal. Some people develop vocal nodules that cause the voice to sound hoarse or breathy. Benign growths on the vocal folds can occur when a speaking technique causes the vocal folds to hit with too much impact stress. Upper respiratory infections and neurologic conditions (e.g., Parkinson disease, stroke, multiple sclerosis) can cause paralysis or weakness of the vocal folds. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) has also been known to cause voice disorders if left untreated. Some voice disorders occur without apparent cause.
If you have hoarseness, voice change, discomfort, chronic cough, or episodic shortness of breath that lasts for more than ten days, you should have an examination by a medical doctor. An ENT (ear, nose, and throat) doctor or otolaryngologist is the specialist trained to look at the larynx and diagnose physical problems of the vocal folds.
After you consult your doctor about your voice disorder, you may seek the services of a speech-language pathologist. Many voice problems improve with voice therapy provided by the speech-language pathologist. Some voice problems are managed by a combination of medical or surgical treatment and voice therapy. During voice therapy, speech-language pathologists help children and adults improve their speaking technique to prevent or rehabilitate voice disorders. They can also provide respiratory retraining to rehabilitate the laryngeally-based respiratory disorder of paradoxical vocal fold motion (vocal cord dysfunction).