What are Vocal Polyps?
Vocal polyps are large masses or unilateral growths that develop at the level of the vocal folds, located in the larynx (voice box). Vocal polyps may be solid or fluid filled, and can become quite large almost occluding the airways. An organic voice disorder occurs due to changes in the structures of the voice box (larynx) or the nerves that control voice production. As such, structural disorders can be caused by lesions (physical abnormality) of the larynx. Vocal polyps are therefore classified as a type of organic voice disorder due to the unilateral growth formations that occur at the level of the vocal folds (located in the larynx/voice box). A haemorrhagic polyp is another variant that appears on the vocal fold as an almost blood-like blister.
Vocal polyps are mainly caused by phonotraumatic behaviours, which mean behaviours that cause trauma to laryngeal health. These phonotruamatic behaviours occur as a result of vocal misuse and abuse; for example, through yelling, shouting, excessive drinking and/or smoking etc. Haemorrhagic polyps (appearance of a blood blister on the vocal fold) may occur as the result of a single traumatic event, such as yelling at a football game.
Dysphonia is a term given to disorders of the voice. In particularly, the term dysphonia refers to the inability to produce sounds using the vocal organs. The most typical symptom associated with vocal polyps may include:
- Abnormal voice quality
- Pitch breaks when speaking
- Hoarseness of voice
- Inadequate resonance
- Vocal fatigue
- Anxiety and/or discomfort when talking
- Irritation in the throat
Patients may also complain of shortness of breath or problems breathing as the vocal folds may partially block the airway, particularly if the polyp is very large. Increased vocal effort may then be required to phonate/produce voice due to the occlusion of the airway.
What treatments are available for vocal polyps?
An Ear Nose and Throat specialist can diagnose the presence of vocal polyps. Voice therapy and improved vocal hygiene is the preferred management option for the treatment of vocal polyps. A speech language pathologist is able to advise an appropriate management plan, this may include reduction of vocal irritants, adjustments to vocal behaviours and regular voice therapy. In some cases, surgical intervention may be required to improve voice quality.
Contact us for results focused speech therapy
This article was written by our speech pathologist Eugene Pillay who is a Speech Pathology Australia member.
If you have questions about Vocal Polyps or for results focused speech therapy, contact your local doctor who will arrange for you to see a speech pathologist in Sydney.
Colton, R.H., & Casper, J.K. (1996). Understanding voice problems: A physiological perspective for diagnosis and treatment (2nd ed.). USA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.