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What is a voice disorder? What do you need to know?

Updated: Jun 21, 2020

A voice disorder is any change in the sound, feeling or functionality of the voice that becomes a problem for the person at hand. What does this look like exactly?

It could be a simple change in the sound of the voice that makes someone notice something is "off". Perhaps they have noticed persistent or worsening hoarseness? Is their voice quieter? Do they notice a change in pitch or pitch range? Do they have voice breaks ? A breathy quality?

They could also be experiencing different feelings when speaking - perhaps more effort or straining to get sound out, or vocal fatigue after speaking. Maybe they now have to work harder to be heard. They may even experience frequent throat clearing or coughing with could point to laryngeal dysfunction.

How can a voice be "disordered"?

Voice disorders can have an organic or functional cause. Organic can be a change to the structure of the vocal folds or larynx (i.e. edema due to LPR, a fungal infection, or cancer). Organic voice disorders could also mean a neurological voice disorder which would be the case in which a voice disorder develops from a peripheral or central nervous system impairment. This could be something like tremor or Spasmodic Dysphonia that originates from an impairment in the central nervous system or perhaps damage to the peripheral nerves that innervate the larynx such as in the case when we see vocal fold paresis or paralysis.

Who is at risk?

Anyone can develop a voice disorder. High voice users (i.e. teachers, professional voice users that speak for long durations in their careers, lecturers, frequent phone users, singers, and an individual who frequently speaks over noise are just some that are at higher risk for a voice disorder.

What should you do with someone with a voice disorder?

First, they should see an otolaryngologist, an ENT specialized in seeing voice, swallowing, and upper airway patients. They may be able to jointly be evaluated by a speech language pathologist/voice therapist at the same time. If not concurrently, any voice or upper airway disorder patient will also need a comprehensive evaluation by the speech language pathologist/voice therapist. Look out for an upcoming post about more specifics of the evaluation and a step by step breakdown of what to do when a voice patient comes to you.

If you’d like to learn more about voice disorders follow me on social media or contact us for a free consultation as a professional looking to learn more about voice disorders or as someone either at risk for or currently experiencing voice symptoms.

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