Vocal cord polyps are benign lumps on the vocal cords that can cause hoarseness and breathiness. Typically, the growths come from an injury to the vocal cords, such as shouting at a concert. However, some other common causes can contribute to vocal cord injury. Some of these include smoking, allergies, and singing.
Lighting a cigarette isn’t just harmful to the lungs. Studies have shown that people who are smokers are 3 times more likely to develop problems with the voice than people who don’t smoke. Smoking irritates the vocal cords and can lead to the development of lesions.
Allergies can affect the vocal cords in several ways. Post-nasal drip can irritate the voice. Constant coughing or throat-clearing can lead to vocal cord damage. Additionally, the antihistamines taken for allergies can dry out mucus in the throat. While this dryness might help allergy symptoms, the vocal cords rely on moisture to work properly. Over time, this can cause strain on the vocal cords and lead to the development of polyps.
The most common cause of vocal cord polyps is a misuse of the voice. These growths are sometimes called singer’s nodes. This condition often affects people who overuse the voice, such as teachers, preachers, coaches, cheerleaders, and professional singers. Singers might experience a more limited range of vocal skills if a nodule or polyp is present. In these cases, treatment for polyps will often include voice or speech therapy to help people learn to use the vocal cords more properly and safely.
The first step for treating vocal polyps is to rest the voice. In some cases, voice or speech therapy will be prescribed. Patients may also need to be treated for any underlying conditions that caused the growths to form, such as allergies, acid reflux, or sinusitis. In some cases, if the polyps don’t go away, surgery may be needed. In a procedure called phonomicrosurgery, an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist use small instruments to remove the polyp without surrounding any damaged tissue.
When to seek help
In addition to a raspy, hoarse voice, early symptoms of polyps can include pain, a constant need to clear the throat, and coughing. If these symptoms persist for more than two weeks, vocal cord polyps may be to blame. Patients experiencing any of these persistent symptoms should schedule an appointment with an ENT for diagnosis and treatment options.