Did you have any idea that it is possible to abuse your vocal cords and create vocal nodules? Vocal cord nodules are tiny growths on the vocal cords. They are not tumors but more like little benign pimples. You may not think it is possible to damage your vocal cords, but it can happen. You’re probably thinking of people that talk too much and assuming they probably have nodules by now. Vocal cord nodules do not just form from speaking, but when you are singing and yelling a lot without giving your vocal cords a break, they can become inflamed. Be aware of the symptoms and get the necessary treatment.
The vocal cords are two membranous folds of tissue that you find in the larynx. They create a V-shape in the larynx. They have a very delicate and fine lining around the outside that is susceptible to trauma. The voice works through vocal cord vibrations. When air hits the vocal cords, it causes them to vibrate. The constant vibration of the vocal cords without intermittent rest may result in vocal cord inflammation. It is even possible to speak and sing incorrectly. Incorrect singing and speaking lead to inflammation. The environment in which you sing and speak in can be hazardous to your voice. You may have been in a bar and came out hoarse. The voice needs proper lubrication, so dry and smoky environments are bad for your vocal cords.
When the lining of the vocal cord swells, it needs rest to go back to normal. Persistent swelling of the vocal cords may cause the swelling to become firm. The firmness of those vocal cords eventually becomes a vocal nodule. The nodules, at first, might be blister like but will grow callouses if not treated. Vocal trauma can occur with too much talking, talking too loud, or speaking and singing incorrectly. The longer you abuse your vocal cords, the larger and harder the nodules become.
Vocal Nodule Causes
The main causes of vocal nodules include loudness, overuse, and speaking wrong. Those who do public speaking or singing for a living are more susceptible to vocal nodules. According to the American Speech-Language- Hearing Association, women between the ages of 20 and 50 more frequently develop nodules. Nodules may be caused by acid reflux as well as allergies. Both issues may cause vocal cord swelling. Smoking is also harmful to your vocal cords. Smoking causes inflammation and creates nodules. Overconsumption of caffeine and alcohol dries out the mouth. When the mouth is not properly lubricated, it will cause irritation which too leads to nodules.
Vocal Nodule Symptoms
Symptoms of vocal cord nodules vary. Hoarseness is the most evident symptom. Hoarseness may also be accompanied by a rough or scratchy voice. Neck pain and tightness are a sign of a vocal nodule. Voice fatigue may be noticed. You may get hoarse quicker than normal. Your throat may feel like it has a lump. If you are a singer, your pitch range will decrease. Hitting those high notes you previously had no trouble with may now seem impossible. Your voice may also sound breathy and not very strong. If you notice any of these symptoms, you should see an ENT physician.
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Diagnosing Vocal Nodules
Vocal cord nodules seem extremely common, but they are not common at all. Many ENT physicians contribute vocal cord swelling to nodules, and it may not be nodules at all. It is best to talk with a specialist, like a laryngologist. Most ENTs diagnose nodules with an endoscope. This procedure will show swelling, but it will not distinguish whether you have nodules, polyps, or a cyst. All three are a result of vocal cord swelling, but their etymology is different. A laryngologist can diagnose vocal cord problems more thoroughly. They use what is called a video stroboscopy. This instrument looks into the throat and can diagnose more specifically the swelling that is on the vocal cords. Once the laryngologist diagnoses the problem, they can begin appropriate treatment.
Treating Vocal Nodules
Nodules can be treated, especially if they are found early. The first step of treatment includes rest. Rest may include not speaking at all. For most of us, this is very hard. Treatment also may include learning to speak correctly through voice therapy. Instead of yelling, you will have to learn to amplify your voice. These treatments are behavioral treatments. Other treatments may include surgery or medication. Surgery involves vocal nodule removal and is performed in extreme cases. Medical treatment is done to help whatever may be causing nodules. In some instances, acid reflux, allergies, and thyroid issues may be the source of the vocal nodules. If you treat the source, you can treat the nodules.
Nodules are not a life-threatening issue and in some cases, is a result of other underlying issues. Nodules may permanently damage your vocal cords. You may become permanently hoarse. As a singer, you may lose the range you once had. Vocal cords can become scarred, and the use of your voice can be painful. I’m sure you have been hoarse at least once in your life. Hoarseness is not normal. For many of us, it goes away with rest, but if it continues you should see an ENT. It is best to learn how to use your voice without allowing it to become hoarse. Getting voice therapy may be necessary. You never know with a little therapy you could be the next music superstar.