Feeling a scratch in your throat? Sounding a little hoarse lately? While a mildly sore throat seems minor, the cause could be more severe than you think.
Vocal cord nodules are small growths on your vocal cords. Your vocal cords are located inside of your voice box, also known as your larynx.
In addition to changing the way your voice sounds, nodules could also cause a number of speech issues.
Vocal nodules most commonly develop in women and children. Nodules are also one of the most common causes of hoarseness for children.
If you’re worried that sore throat indicates you’ve developed vocal cord nodules, don’t stress. Instead, it helps to stay informed. Here’s everything you need to know about vocal cord nodules.
What Are Vocal Nodules?
Vocal nodules are noncancerous growths that build against your vocal cords. Hard and rough, they’re generally between the size of a pinhead or pea.
Vocal cord nodules are also known as:
- Teacher’s nodules
- Screamer’s nodules
- Singing nodules
You often develop nodules from straining or overusing your voice. However, there are a few other causes.
What Causes Vocal Cord Nodules?
Also known as your vocal folds, vocal cords are the v-shaped group of tissues that travel the center of your voice box.
When you talk, your vocal cords vibrate open as air rises from your lungs.
Unfortunately, it’s easy to use your voice incorrectly, which can irritate your vocal folds. As the irritation builds up, the area hardens, leaving little callouses. If you don’t rest, those callouses will only grow.
You can develop vocal cord nodules from:
- Talking loudly over time
When your vocal cords aren’t able to vibrate normally, it causes the sound of your voice to change.
Vocal nodules often affect people who talk, shout, or sing often, including:
- Radio hosts
If you recent screamed your lungs off at a concert, you might also develop these nodules.
However, overusing your voice isn’t the only way you can develop vocal cord nodules. You might also develop nodules if you smoke or drink regularly. Other causes include sinusitis, allergies, and hypothyroidism.
In some cases, drinking too much caffeine can cause problems, too. That’s right; your morning cup of coffee could be the culprit. Caffeine dries out the vocal folds, which could cause the nodules to form.
As a side effect, certain medications can also cause you to develop vocal cord nodules.
Signs of Vocal Nodules
One of the most noticeable signs you’ve developed vocal cord nodules is a change in the tone of your voice. In some cases, your voice will:
- Sound hoarse, raspy, or scratchy
- Creak or break
- Sound breathy or tired
- Shift pitches
If you’re a singer, you might also experience a limited singing range. In addition to reducing your range, you might also lose your voice entirely.
Another indication you’ve developed vocal cord nodules is pain. In addition to feeling a lump in your throat, you might also experience neck pain or a shooting pain ear to ear.
Other indicators of vocal nodules include coughing, constant throat-clearing, and tiredness.
What to Expect During a Doctor’s Visit
If you experience these symptoms for over two weeks, consider visiting an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctor. An ENT doctor is also known as an otolaryngologist. However, you might also consider seeing an allergist if you believe allergies are the root of your problems.
During your visit, the ENT doctor will:
- Ask if you’ve been screaming, singing, or straining your voice lately
- Examine your neck, back of your throat, and head
- Examine your vocal cords
The ENT doctor might also ask you to talk at different pitches.
This will make it easier for them to study your vocal folds at work.
During the examination, the ENT will likely use a lighted scope. They’ll use a long tube, called an endoscope, and a flashing light, called a stroboscope, to study your nodules.
By placing this scope through your nose or mouth, the ENT can further examine your larynx. During the examination, they’ll look for nodules against your vocal cords.
The nodules will look like rough patches against your throat.
In some cases, the doctor will record your vocal folds. They might also require a small tissue sample to make sure the growth isn’t cancerous.
The first step to vocal cord nodule treatment is easy: rest.
That means you’ll need to give your voice a break. During this time, you’ll need to stop yelling, singing, and whispering. Giving your voice a break will also give your nodules a chance to heal.
Your ENT doctor will determine how long you need to rest depending on the damage.
Another option for treatment is voice therapy.
A speech-language pathologist will teach you how to use your voice in a safe matter. That way, you can avoid developing voice nodules in the future.
The pathologist will teach you vocal hygiene, or how to properly care for your voice. In addition to teaching you how you’re harming your vocal cords, they’ll also show you how to relax, lower stress, and get enough breath when you talk. Their teaches can also help if you have a voice disorder.
Your nodules might have an underlying cause. If this is the case, you should also seek treatment for acid reflux or allergies. If you have hypothyroidism or sinusitis, consider getting treatment for your condition.
Surgery for vocal fold nodules is rare. In fact, it occurs in fewer than 5 percent of cases. However, you will require surgery if your nodules appear large or don’t heal after a few weeks.
Vocal Cord Nodules: Causes and Care
The next time you attend a concert, reconsider screaming along to your favorite songs. If you’re not careful, overusing your voice can cause vocal cord nodules to form. These nodules can, in time, cause a number of speech issues in the future.
Want to develop great speech? Contact us today to schedule an introductory call with our team.