Frequently Asked Questions

What causes hoarseness in the voice?

There many words that describe negative changes in the sound of the voice. Hoarseness, roughness, breathiness, strain, gravelly, husky or weak are just a few. When there is a change in the sound and feel of your voice that is bad that does not go away within about 2 weeks, it might be because there your vocal folds (cords) are irritated, swollen or have developed some sort of bump (lesion or tumor), or became weak.

We make sound by bringing our vocal folds together to vibrate. When the vocal folds are irritated, can’t come together or have some growth, the quality of the sound we make changes.

The most common example of this is laryngitis when we get a cold.  Most of the growths on the vocal cords are not serious, but they can be a form of cancer. Changes in vocal quality may also be a symptom of a more serious illness.

There are several types of voice disorders:

  • Benign lesions (lumps and bumps that are not life –threatening
  • Weakness or paralysis of one or both vocal folds
  • Cancer or other serious problem

Hoarseness often describes a voice that sounds raspy, strained or deeper in pitch and can indicate a change has occurred with your vocal folds (cords).

The vocal folds are the sound-producing part of the larynx or voice box. The vocal folds remain apart when breathing, but create sound by vibrating together. Swelling or other conditions can prevent the vocal folds from vibrating properly. This can cause hoarseness or a change in voice pitch.

Straining the voice or an illness like laryngitis can cause these vocal fold conditions. Chronic, prolonged or reoccurring hoarseness may be a symptom of a more serious condition. For example, it may indicate a tumor of the larynx. For hoarseness that does not improve, see an otolaryngologist.

Can I improve the tone and quality of my voice?

Depending on what is wrong with your vocal folds voice therapy can be very helpful in getting your voice back to normal.  Voice therapy is provided by Speech Language Pathologists or Voice Therapists. There are many fun vocal exercises that are used to improve your voice and sometimes even help the bump or lesion to go away. In addition to the exercises, the Voice Therapists help you to find ways to use your voice in a better more efficient way.

Our Voice Therapists work together with the otolaryngologists (Physicians whose specialty is the voice) to provide the best treatment for your problem.

Not all of the benign lesions or other benign problem can be treated with voice therapy alone. Sometimes they need to be treated with surgery and voice therapy or just surgery or some other medical intervention alone.

What causes tumors or cancers of the voice box?

It would be lovely if we could identify one or two things we do that can cause cancer in the throat. However, all we can say is that certain activities like smoking, heavy alcohol use, exposure to certain toxic chemicals can put you at higher risk for developing cancer in the throat.

The most common tumors (bumps on the vocal folds) are not life threatening (benign). These include vocal nodules, polyps or cysts. It is thought that these benign lesions are the result of trauma to the vocal folds. The trauma can come from hard prolonged coughing, yelling or sometimes even talking too long or too much. It is very important not to talk too much when you are sick and especially when you already have a little laryngitis. Sometimes the tumor is caused by a virus (papillomatosis).

How can I protect my voice?

 Keeping your voice healthy is important for all of us. We don’t need to be a voice professional to understand how important our voice is in daily life. It is true that some professions make more demands on someone’s voice, but voice care applies to everyone.

You can take simple steps to take better care of your voice and avoid vocal strain. They include:

  • Staying healthy
  • Keep yourself well hydrated (drink plenty of water)
  • Pace your voice use. Be conscious of giving your voice a break throughout the day
  • Remember to breathe
  • Try to avoid too much throat clearing or coughing
  • Use a microphone when speaking to large groups
  • Limit smoking, alcohol use or other irritants
  • Be aware of vocal strain when yelling or cheering. (learn to do it in a way that does not strain your voice

Are there special techniques for singers or speakers?

For voice professionals it is important to work with voice therapists and otolaryngologists who understand the special needs of the voice professional. The Emory Voice Center Physicians and Voice Therapist are all highly experienced in working with this highly trained population.

How Can We Help You Today?

Need help? We will be delighted to assist you today, so please call us at 404-778-7777. We look forward to hearing from you.