Vocal Cord Nodules and Polyps
Your vocal folds are inside your larynx, or voice box. When you talk, air moves from your lungs through the vocal folds to your mouth. The vocal folds vibrate to produce sound. Anything that makes it harder for the vocal folds to vibrate can cause a voice problem.
Vocal fold nodules are growths that form on the vocal folds. They are benign, or not cancerous. When you use your voice the wrong way, your vocal folds may swell. Over time, the swollen spots can get harder, like a callous. These nodules can get larger and stiffer if your vocal abuse continues.
Polyps can be on one or both of the vocal folds. They may look like a swollen spot or bump, a blister, or a thin, long growth. Most polyps are bigger than nodules. You may hear them called polypoid degeneration or Reinke’s edema. It may be easiest to think of a nodule as a callous and a polyp as a blister.
Signs of Vocal Fold Nodules and Polyps
Nodules and polyps cause similar symptoms. These include:
- a "rough" voice
- a "scratchy" voice
- a harsh-sounding voice
- shooting pain from ear to ear
- feeling like you have a "lump in your throat"
- neck pain
- less ability to change your pitch
- voice and body tiredness
Causes of Vocal Fold Nodules and Polyps
Most of the time, vocal abuse or misuse causes nodules. Long-term vocal abuse can cause polyps, too. But polyps may happen after just one instance of vocal abuse, like yelling at a concert. Smoking cigarettes for a long time, thyroid problems, and reflux may also cause polyps.
Vocal abuse can happen in many ways, including from:
- tense muscles
- talking loudly
- drinking caffeine and alcohol, which dries out the throat and vocal folds
Treatments for Vocal Fold Nodules and Polyps
Treatment depends on what caused the nodules or polyps, how big they are, and what problems you have. You can have surgery to remove the nodules or polyps. This is usually done only when they are large or have been there for a long time. Children do not usually have surgery.
You need to treat any medical causes of your voice problem. You may need to have your reflux, allergies, or thyroid problems treated before the nodules or polyps will go away. You may also need medical help to stop smoking or to control stress and tension.
You may see an SLP for voice therapy. The SLP can teach you how to take care of your voice, called vocal hygiene. You can learn about how you abuse your voice and what to do to stop. Treatment may also help you change how your voice sounds or teach you how to get enough breath to talk. The SLP can also help you find ways to relax and feel less stressed.