Our larynx, or voicebox, has two bands of tissue called vocal cords. These bands form a V-shape when we are breathing in and out, but when we speak (or cough) the two arms of the V come together. As the air rushes through, it causes these two bands to vibrate (like the reed of a wind instrument) and this gives the basic sound to our voice.
Problems with the voice can arise if the vocal cords become inflamed, or develop any irregularities on their surface. Polyps, nodules and tumours of the vocal cords are all possible causes. Sometimes one of the nerves that move the vocals stops working, leading to a quiet, ‘breathy’ quality to the voice.
Factors that can contribute to hoarseness include:
- Excessive voice use – often related to employment.
Eg. teachers, call-centre workers and professional singers.
- Gastro-oesophageal reflux (common symptoms are heartburn and indigestion)
As a general rule, anyone with sudden onset of hoarseness that lasts for more than 3 weeks should be referred to an ENT specialist so that the larynx can be examined.
Laryngeal cancer occurs almost exclusively in smokers. If you are worried about this you should see your GP as soon as possible.
The larynx is easily examined in the clinic, using a flexible endoscope. This is passed through the nose after a little spray is used to numb the lining of the nose.
If you would like to arrange an appointment to discuss your symptoms further, please do so via using one of the available options on our contact us page.