Voice Problems

Voice Problems - General Questions

Who gets voice problems?

Anyone, at any age!

  • more likely to occur in individuals who use their voice extensively or strenuously
  • may occur in individuals with limited voice
  • may occur in individuals who used their voices extensively prior to retirement, and now have a reduced voice use (the voice can become de-conditioned!)

Why do singers get voice disorders?

Voice disorders can:

  • develop quickly, for instance, following a surgery or loud screaming
  • take months or years to fully develop
  • growths on the vocal folds may be chronic, or develop slowly
  • functional problems can develop like repetitive motion injuries in other parts of the body
  • neurological disorders may develop insidiously over time, or appear quite quickly

The voice is considered disordered if:

  • there is abnormal, or poor quality, sound
  • the quality does not serve the voice needs of the individual
  • there is fatigue, discomfort, or pain associated with voice use (even if the voice sounds normal)
  • the voice cannot do what the individual needs it to do

Why do singers get voice disorders?

Singers, actors, teachers, politicians and other professional voice users are prone to developing voice disorders because of extensive and athletic use of the voice (for more about the definition of a professional voice user, please refer to our page on Professional Voice Users). These problems may be obvious, such as a complete loss of voice, or barely perceptible by anyone but the individual, such as loss of high notes in a singer. A voice problem in these individuals may be career threatening and needs to be evaluated by a voice care team with experience treating professional voice users.

What are the different types of voice disorders?

Organic - Something is physically wrong with the mechanism

Functional - The physical structure is normal, but the mechanism is being used improperly or inefficiently

Sometimes an organic voice disorder, such as polyps or cysts (growths on the vocal folds) cause an individual to develop poor functional use of the voice. Other times, poor functional use, such as screaming or excessive throat clearing, can cause organic changes to occur, such as the development of nodules (a.k.a. "nodes").

The interaction between the organic and functional components of voice disorders is why it is so important to be treated by a team of voice specialists including at least an otolaryngologist (Ear, Nose and Throat doctor) with special training in the voice, and a certified speech language pathologist with specialized training in voice disorders and rehabilitation.