Patients may become alarmed when they experience a change in the usual sound of their voice. It is normal to be concerned if the voice seems to be harsh or breathy. Sometimes there is even a difference in the normal pitch of the voice, and vocal strain can produce discomfort. Depending upon the cause of the hoarseness, treatment can range from rest to medication to surgery on the vocal cords.
Problems That Do Not Require Surgery
Hoarseness is usually temporary and results from overusing the voice or having some irritation of the throat. Once the cause of the problem has been treated, the voice will return to normal. One common example of this is laryngitis. Laryngitis in an inflammation caused by an infection. It is usually treated with medication that alleviates the discomfort of the condition while the body recovers from the infection.
Problems That May Require Surgery
Sometimes rest and medication are not enough to relieve hoarseness. In these cases, surgery may be necessary. Surgery is most often used when growths on the vocal cords are the source of the problem.
Growths on the vocal cords may take the form of nodules or polyps. Nodules are hard growths that look like calluses. Nodules are non-cancerous. In contrast, polyps are fluid-filled lesions. Polyps frequently appear when the voice is overused or is put under unusual strain. The vocal cords can also present with warts caused by the human papilloma virus, or HPV.
In more rare cases, growths on the vocal cords can be cancerous. It is also possible for the cords to become completely paralyzed. This condition may be temporary or may persist over time.
In the above cases, surgery to remove the growths is often the recommended treatment. If they are interfering with normal vocal production and do not respond to therapy, surgery may be the best option to restore the voice. The same is true of vocal cord paralysis. Therapy may be tried first, and if it is not successful, surgery can be helpful. Cancerous growths almost always require surgery.
Vocal cord surgery takes place in an operating room. The cords are approached through the mouth, so it is not necessary to make any external cuts to the neck. A microscope is used to view the cords through a small tube that has been positioned in the mouth. The surgeon will then use small tools to ablate the growths on the cords. Any other abnormal tissue that is found to be present is often removed at the same time.
Most patients can receive this surgery on an outpatient basis. After the surgery, the patient will recover in the hospital for an hour or two. This allows the staff to be sure that the patient is alert and recovering normally. The patient will then be allowed to return home and may be instructed to rest the voice for some period of time to allow for further healing. Most people can return to their normal routine the next day.