Vocal fold polyps are fluid-filled growths that sometimes develop on part of a vocal cord. Polyps are typically caused by improper use or misuse of the voice, or by continual overuse. While it’s a condition often associated with professional singers, polyps on vocal cords can affect anyone who places similar stress on their vocal cords on a regular basis. Treatment usually involves therapy and other non-surgical remedies, although surgery may be necessary if symptoms are persistent or severe.
Why Vocal Fold Polyps Develop
Recurring misuse of the vocal cords is the most common reason why polyps develop on the vocal folds. Hoarseness is often the first noticeable sign that a polyp is present. Patients may also experience difficulty making certain sounds or notice a change in their vocal tone when polyps impede voice production. Symptoms may also include:
- An increased effort to produce the desired vocal sounds (especially when singing)
- Persistent throat irritations and recurring hoarseness
- A change in vocal quality, or an inability to sustain tone
What is a Vocal Polyp?
Polyps are abnormal growths (lesions) that form on the covering of a vocal fold (“vocal cord”). These fluid-filled growths usually develop slowly. While a single vocal fold may be affected, polyps often develop on both vocal folds. Patients may not notice any issues with polyps until the growths become large enough to irritate nearby tissues and affect voice production.
Non-Surgical Vocal Fold Polyp Treatment
Voice therapy is usually the first treatment recommended to address throat irritation due to vocal fold polyps. Therapy typically includes breathing and relaxation techniques to naturally relax the vocal cords. Attempts will also be made to identify the likely source of stress that may have contributed to the polyps developing. Medication may be prescribed to help with irritation of the vocal folds and ease hoarseness.
Surgery for Vocal Fold Polyps
For lesions that are partially obstructing a patient’s airway or not responding well to other treatments, including vocal therapy, surgery may be recommended. This is also the case if a malignancy (presence of cancer) is discovered. Performed under general anesthesia, the procedure is done with a special instrument with small camera attached, called a laryngoscope, that’s used to provide a better view of the affected area.
Special instruments are used to cut the surface of the affected vocal cord. The polyp is then removed. Follow-up recommendations include initial rest of the vocal cords, meaning avoiding excessive strain, to allow tissues to heal and voice therapy. While many patients have no further issues after surgery, some patients may require additional surgery if polyps form again.
Any persistent throat irritation shouldn’t be ignored. After treatment, it’s often recommended that patients take steps to minimize the risk of developing additional vocal fold lesions in the future, such as continuing with vocal therapy to learn proper speaking and singing techniques to ease vocal fold stress.