The vocal cords or vocal reeds (scientifically known as vocal folds) are made of mucous membranes which are folded from the bottom and placed front to back stretched across the larynx above the trachea. The cords are basically cartilages (arytenoid and thyroid at the beginning and the end respectively). The folds of the cords determine the type of the voices, like for males the folds are thicker and the voice sounds low pitched, that is higher the pitch, lesser and thinner are the folds. These folds or layers are various kinds of fibrous membranes of length approximately 12 mm to 24 mm and thickness of 3 mm to 5 mm.
Our vocal cords are very delicate organs and therefore cannot take too much stress. We often hear people telling not to shout very loud or stress your vocal cords by singing at a high pitch or speaking too much at a loud voice. The pain in the vocal cords make you cough and often make it difficult for you to speak.
When we stress our vocal cords to continue damaging it for some reason, white spots develop on the cords. These spots change into nodules when the damage continues. The nodules though are not cancerous but are very harmful for the cords and painful for us. The white spots usually grow thicker and tougher first and then start swelling and finally grow into vocal nodules. These vocal nodules then become further tougher when the abuse on the cords continue.
Sometimes these vocal nodules grow even larger into polyps. These growth happens when the abuse on the cords continue without being treated at all. The vocal nodules no more remain as white spots but change into lumps or blisters. These polyps can grow on one cord or both. The bumps that form are into callus like the vocal nodules but are more like blisters. The nodules or polyps not treated for a long time can cause serious damage to your vocal cords and in turn can harm your voice.
What Causes Vocal Nodules?
There are several causes which might lead to the growth of vocal nodules in your vocal cords. Some of them are:
- Smoking regularly can cause vocal nodules.
- Consuming alcohol or caffeine in a huge amount which dries up the cords.
- Shouting loud at your work place or working as a cheerleader.
- All kinds of allergies and GERD disease.
- Tension in the muscles due to over working. Stressing your voice.
- Coaching people and hence requiring stressing your voice.
- Another cause of vocal nodules is hypothyroidism.
- Any sudden shock or a trauma. Any loud incident like cheering at a concert or at a match.
Most of the above causes of vocal nodules refer that whenever you are found to stress your voice too much, you might develop a chance to a growth of vocal nodules in your throat. There can be many more reasons which might cause voice abuse and hence be the reason for the growth of vocal nodules. The vocal nodules develop usually more in women within the age of 20 to 50.
Symptoms of Vocal Nodules
It is very difficult to find out if you have developed vocal nodules or not since the symptoms are common like a cough and cold or if you have infection in the tonsils. There are certain symptoms which refer that you have developed vocal nodules and they are:
- Coarseness in the voice. Immediately after the white spots develop, the voice breaks. The voice becomes harsh and hoarse and one could hear a rough voice. The pitch of your voice also goes down.
- Scratchy throat can be a symptom of vocal nodules. You might feel itchiness in your throat with the development of the nodules.
- Once the vocal nodules start to grow, you will feel a lump like sensation in your throat.
- You will develop terrible pain in the neck and also shooting pain in your ears with the growth of vocal nodules.
- As the vocal nodules keep growing in your body from white spots to lumps, you feel pain through your body and you will feel tired or fatigued.
Once you feel any or all of these symptoms, you should go for testing your throat immediately. With the proper diagnosis, you can get treated on time and get better again. As it can happen to anybody of any age the treatment needs to be done on time. If the lumps keep growing, the situation can reach up to surgery.
Tests to Diagnose Vocal Nodules
The tests are done when the symptoms of vocal nodules are seen in the patient for more than 2 weeks.
- The ear, nose and throat specialist will do a physical test of checking your throat.
- The SLP or speech-language pathologist will do a voice-evolutionary test.
- Even a neurological test will be done to identity the lump as vocal nodules.
- An endoscope shall be passed through your throat to get a clear vision of the lump. The time up to which you can hold your voice qualities similar shall also be tested.
After the above testes and examinations are done, the vocal nodules shall be confirmed in diagnosis.
How to Get Rid of Vocal Nodules?
If the vocal nodules are at their first stage, then medicine courses can help you in getting rid of it. You can also be treated behaviourally or surgically. Surgery is only opted when the lumps are there in your cords for too long, else you are treated with medicines and asked to take classes on speech therapy. There the SLP or Speech-Language Pathologist will help to learn to control the qualities of your voice and how to maintain a healthy voice. Also when illnesses like GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease) or thyroid causes the vocal nodules, the treatment of those will help the vocal cords to be treated too. You shall also be asked by the doctors to leave any kind of practice that might cause a stress in your vocal cords.
Home Remedies for Vocal Nodules
Below are some home remedies to get rid of vocal nodules:
- Avoid stressing on your voice. Talk softly and avoid shouting.
- Take regular pills. Learn breathing techniques and voice modulations like managing the pitch of your voice and maintaining a healthy voice quality.
- Start drinking warm water or milk to give relief to your throat.
- Never avoid the symptoms and visit the doctors immediately after you sense a lump in your throat or severe pain.
- Do not consume anything that might develop an allergy or GERD problems.
Recovery Period/Healing Time for Vocal Nodules
Depending on the type of treatment for vocal nodules that you are going under the doctors will be able to tell you how long will you take to recover or your healing time whether you will fully be recovered at all.
Prevention of Vocal Nodules
- Do not start smoking to prevent vocal nodules.
- Never excite yourself too much and carry on shouting for a long time like cheering at a concert or at a cricket match.
- Never stress your voice too much while singing.
- Never consume anything that dries up the throat like consuming too much of caffeine.
Complications of Vocal Nodules
As the trouble with the vocal cords begins you will slowly find difficulty in talking. This will create a disturbance in conversing with people at your place of job. You might have to miss important presentations and meetings because of this. If you are a singer, you will have to miss shows. As you will be suffering from acute pain and will be fatigued, you will mostly have to be at home. Also when the vocal nodules grow larger and thicker, the condition might reach up to surgery which may hamper your health deeply.
Are Vocal Nodules Dangerous?
When the vocal nodules develop, they harm your voice or speaking power the most. You start feeling difficult to talk. At its first stage it can be treated by medicines. If the condition aggravates then therapies and surgeries need to be done to remove the vocal nodules from turning tougher and thicker which might hamper your voice quality forever.
Prognosis/Outcome for Vocal Nodules
Vocal nodules are usually not hereditary can be cured totally if diagnosed in time. If your condition is worse and the diagnosis was done much later, you might end up losing your voice quality.
Lifestyle Changes for Vocal Nodules
- Once you are being treated try to take therapeutic classes to learn how to maintain the voice hygiene. The SLP or the Speech Language Pathologist shall help you with this.
- Never scream at a concert or shout while singing.
- A good lifestyle change for treating vocal nodules is avoiding smoking and consumption of alcohol.
- You have to keep your thyroid problems and allergy developments in check.
Coping with Vocal Nodules
Coping with vocal nodules is challenging. The treatment processes become difficult when it involves methods like surgery or therapy. During the periods of the therapy you have to remain calm and have to co-operate totally so that you can learn about voice modulations and can gain back your voice over time. You shall also have to avoid stressing on your voice and take medicines regularly to heal sooner.