Have you ever belted out a note so long that it hurt? Or maybe screamed so loud at a concert that your voice hurt the next day? Or spoke for such a long period of time that you lost your voice? All of these are examples of voice overuse that can lead to vocal cord nodules. Vocal cord nodules are hard, noncancerous growths that develop along the vocal folds in the voice box. Nodules are usually no larger than a pea but can seriously alter your voice.
How do you get nodules?
Overexerting your voice or using it for long periods of time can lead to nodules. Singing when it hurts, and screaming and speaking for prolonged periods are all examples of vocal usage that can cause nodules. Your vocal cords vibrate every time you use your voice. When you overexert your voice, the vocal cords can become irritated. Nodules can develop on the irritated areas of the vocal cords. The nodules become hard and rough due to the constant irritation. Vocal cords nodules inhibit the vocal cords from vibrating as they normally would and this can lead to a change in pitch or tone. While overuse of the voice is most commonly associated with vocal cord nodules, there are other ways to get them. Other causes of vocal nodules include smoking, alcohol use, allergies, and hypothyroidism.
Who is at risk of developing vocal cord nodules?
Anyone who is constantly using their voice for singing or speaking is more at risk for developing them. Singers, cheerleaders, teachers, coaches, preachers, and salespeople speak a lot for their job and are more likely to develop vocal cord nodules. Women ages 20 to 50 are also likely to get vocal nodules because of the size of their larynx. Individuals with laryngeal papillomatosis are prone to vocal nodule development. Laryngeal papillomatosis is a condition in which reoccuring vocal nodules grow back even after they have been surgically removed.
What are the symptoms of vocal cord nodules?
Individuals with vocal cord nodules may experience a change in pitch and tone of their voice. Nodules may also lead to a hoarse, raspy, and breathy voice. Vocal cord nodules may make it difficult for singers to be able to hold a note as long as they used to be able to. It may also change the range of voice and inhibit one from being able to speak as high or as low as they may have normally been able to.
What to do if you have vocal nodules?
If you believe you have vocal nodules, resting your voice will be essential to healing. It is important not to sing, yell, or even whisper. Surprisingly, whispering can actually cause more stress on the vocal cords than speaking regularly. Vocal therapy can be used to relieve the voice and minimize the nodule. Vocal therapy includes education of proper vocal usage to prevent overuse of the voice. The patient will learn breathing techniques, abdominal support, humming, and laryngeal manipulation. The nodule should disappear with proper vocal rest and vocal therapy as the initial treatment. If vocal cord nodules do not subside with vocal therapy, phonomicrosurgery may be necessary to remove the nodule.
If you have any of the symptoms above, it is important to visit a voice specialist. At Totum ENT, we can offer vocal advice and ultimately remove the nodule if necessary. Schedule an appointment with our voice specialist, Dr. Sarah Stackpole. Call (212) 288-2222 or schedule online.