Voice disorders are medical conditions involving abnormal pitch, loudness, or quality of sound produced by the larynx. Voice is the sound made by air passing from the lungs through the larynx, or voice box. In the larynx are vocal cords, two bands of muscle that vibrate to make sounds. Those sounds then resonate through the pharyngeal, oral and nasal cavities to produce the unique sound of a person’s voice. Similar to fingerprints, each person’s voice is unique. For most people, the voice plays an important role in both their personal identity and their ability to communicate effectively.
While most of us take our voice for granted every day, voice disorders can interrupt our ability to speak clearly. Many common behaviors can injure the vocal cords. Talking excessively, screaming, constantly clearing the throat, or smoking can lead to vocal hoarseness. These same habits over time lead to problems such as nodules, polyps, or cysts on the vocal cords. Other sources of voice disorders include infections, reflux of stomach acids into the throat, growths due to a virus, cancer, and diseases that alter movement of the vocal cords.
Signs of an unhealthy voice include: hoarse or raspy voice quality; difficulty hitting high notes when singing; low or deeper pitch than usual; and/or feeling that speech is effortful. Treatment for voice disorders varies depending on the cause. Most voice problems can be successfully treated when diagnosed early.
The Speech-Language Institute at Midwestern University offers assessment and treatment of voice disorders in children, adolescents, and adults. Professors with expertise in voice disorders work with graduate student clinicians to assess and remediate communication disorders associated with voice disturbance.
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