Top 10 Lessons | 62 Lessons on Recovering Your Voice

I. Strong Reason for Hope

  • A Starting Sympathy: Voice Problems – More Distressing Than People Understand
  1. Generally, people can’t imagine the hardships. Though there are more dangerous medical conditions, losing your voice is a special category of hardship – tiring, isolating, discouraging. Day-to-day life without voice is much harder than people can imagine without suffering the problem themselves.
  2. If a website could extend sympathy, this one would.
  3. The Largest Problem – Getting Stuck and Giving Up

Thousands of people with voice problems have tried to find help, made little progress and finally have given up. Because people can live with voice problems, many do and sometimes for the whole of their lives – even from childhood.

  • Overwhelming Reassurance

    The Largest Truth – Large Majority of Cases Treatable
    Once diagnosed, most voice problems can be treated with some measure of success. Most cases can be improved and many effectively resolved.

    1. Hardest Cases – Often Treatable

      Many of the hardest cases, including patients with hardly any voice, can be treated. Voices can be recovered.

    2. Longest Cases – Often Treatable

      People suffering voice problems for 5, 10, 20, 30 years usually are treatable as well. Some improvement is highly likely.

    3. Once Untreatable Cases – Increasingly Treatable

      Medical knowledge and technology in the field of voice care are advancing fast. Many cases not treatable a decade past now can be addressed, improved, even resolved.

    4. Failed Surgeries – Often Correctable

      Some surgical procedures, by a bad turn of events, can create a voice problem to begin with. Other surgeries, intended to address a voice problem specifically, can produce complications – bringing the patient no help or worsening the condition altogether. Even these categories of surgical problems may be treatable a second or third time around. In the right physician’s hands, a prior “problem surgery” often can be remedied.

    5. Marginally Improved Cases – May Be Further Improved

      A very common phenomenon among voice patients is the problem of reaching a “plateau.” The original problem may have been improved in part but the patient feels he has been “plateaued” at an unhappy level of voice, with no further improvement likely. These cases, too, very often can be improved with the right treatment.

    6. “Giving Up,” Not Incurable Condition, the More Common Problem

      The disappointing lesson is that difficult voice problems often require an epic journey – too many doctor appointments, too many treatments, too many blind alleys and failed approaches – before the right diagnosis is found. A frequent problem is that the patient becomes defeated along the way and largely gives up. For the large majority of cases, there will be a successful treatment if he or she “stays the course” long enough. Persistence turns out to matter here.

    Some Honest Qualifications
    Often Improvement, Not Total Cure

    To say that the large majority of voice conditions can be treated is not to say totally cured. A right expectation may be that some voices can be recovered completely and others just improved – though typically meaningfully. In all cases, continuing care and treatment may be required.

    Minority of Cases – No Fix at All
    1. Though they are the minority of cases – most highly uncommon – there are some voice conditions for which the medical profession has made little progress. The key here is much the same as for all voice problems – to avoid giving up hope too soon. The patient should make sure the diagnosis of untreatable condition is confirmed by a specialist likely to be certain in that judgment.
    2. In the case of “no fix at all”, the patient should check back with voice specialists at some point because advances and improvements are continually being made in the field.
    Voice Problem as Part of Larger Condition
    1. There are occasions in which a voice problem is one of the first symptoms of a much larger disease such as, cancer, stroke, multiple sclerosis (MS), Lou Gehrig’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson’s disease, or myasthenia gravis. This too is highly uncommon but, where diagnosed, the long-term prospects for the voice are as unhappy as the disease itself. (For more information, see Voice Dysfunction in Neurological Disorders, Laryngeal Atypia and Early Cancer  and Laryngeal Advanced Cancer.)
    The Occasional Terminal Disease
    1. The overwhelming majority of voice problems involve no urgent, degenerative, terminal disease. Chances are that the voice problem is “just a voice problem” – limited, benign, treatable. Still, there are forms of cancer that begin in, or move to, the throat, the larynx, the vocal folds. Some of the more troubling symptoms are identified in the chapters on cancer. These symptoms should be taken seriously and examined immediately. (For more information, see Laryngeal Atypia and Early Cancer and Laryngeal Advanced Cancer.)

    I. Getting to Diagnosis

    The Exact, Specific, Right Diagnosis
    Diagnosis More Complicated Than You Imagine

    There are 20 to 30 diagnoses that most frequently cause voice problems. As each diagnosis may yield similar symptoms – hoarseness, loss of voice, major fatigue when speaking – isolating the correct underlying cause is difficult.
    A Very Specific Diagnosis Essential to Treatment

    There’s no surprise here: The 20 to 30 most frequent diagnoses require different kinds of treatments. One patient with a hoarse voice may have partial paralysis of the nerves to the vocal folds requiring implants to push the vocal folds closer together if non-resolved. A second patient, with almost an identical hoarse voice, may have acid reflux affecting the vocal folds (without the typical heartburn) requiring only a long dose of an anti-reflux drug.

    Seventy, eighty, ninety percent of the work and time spent getting better may take place just in getting to the right diagnosis. This is a good investment of time.

    1. Wrong or Partial Diagnosis Highly Common

      Some large number of patients, maybe the vast majority who are “stuck” with long-term voice problems, most likely have multiple voice problems or a “missing link” to the cause of the voice problem. As a way of lowering expectations at the beginning and preparing for a long, uphill journey, these patients should expect one, two, or even three “working” diagnoses that need to be sorted out before getting to the definitive diagnosis or combination of diagnoses. This is common. This is okay. The problem is summoning the energy to keep up the search.

    2. Laryngitis as the “Catch All” Diagnosis

      There is a temptation among patients – and even some physicians – to diagnose voice problems as laryngitis or chronic laryngitis. This may not be helpful. Laryngitis means little more than a “hoarse voice”; it does not explain the underlying cause of hoarseness.

      A Critical Point
      A Voice Problem Beyond a Few Weeks Is Not Likely Viral Laryngitis

    What the layman thinks of as “laryngitis” – losing your voice with a cold or a flu – should not go on long. Viral laryngitis usually passes within two to three weeks of the rest of the symptoms of the cold or flu. If it doesn’t, the problem is not likely viral laryngitis.

    Avoiding Patient Fatigue

    • Understandably, a patient may give up on the process after several doctor visits, several failed treatments. The best counsel, I’m afraid, is still “Don’t give up.” A right diagnosis is available and a good treatment likely.

    Avoiding Physician Fatigue

    • The voice field in medicine is a (very, very) narrow specialty. It is not possible for more general physicians, even ear, nose, and throat specialists (ENTs or otolaryngologists), to know the dozens of diagnoses for a bad voice. The problem to watch out for is the physician – even well intended – effectively giving up. A diagnosis of chronic laryngitis can be a clue to a physician’s concern about not finding a more specific diagnosis. The counsel is not to give up; you may need to visit more physicians, physicians increasingly specialized in the problems of the voice.

    Exact, Right Diagnosis Virtually Always Possible – Almost Always

    • Physician voice specialists in the country will admit that there are a minority of cases that cannot be treated. Physician voice specialists also admit that there may be differing medical opinions. That said, reaching the right diagnosis is virtually almost possible. This is the single goal for the first stage of the journey. It is a goal worthy enough.
    • The right diagnosis may be a combination. A patient’s voice problem may be multifactorial, i.e., caused by different disorders present at the same time, each requiring specific treatment for effective and lasting voice care.

    III. Need for a Specialist’s Care?

    The Problem for the Generalist Physician
    About 5,000 Different Medical Conditions
    • As of this writing, there are about 5,000 medical conditions covered in medical databases. No single physician, no matter the intelligence and expertise and earnest compassion, can master even 10 percent of the known medical field.

    Serious Voice Problems: The Very Narrowest Specialty

    • While everyone suffers some voice problem from time to time, truly serious, long-term voice problems are relatively uncommon. Likely there are about 50 physicians in the country who spend a third of their time dedicated to patients with voice problems, although that cadre is increasing in number and training.
    • The Pyramid of Increasing Voice Care Specialization
    • It is possible to think of the various doctors treating voice problems as organized in an inverted pyramid. The deeper down you penetrate, the more specialized the doctor becomes in problems of the voice.
    • The Field of Doctors Treating Voice Problems in the United States
    • Not More Doctors, More Specialization
    • Inevitably, the patient who is truly “stuck” with a long-term voice problem will (and probably should) see a large number of doctors. The short cut, if there is one, is not more doctors only, but also greater and greater specialization. In the end, as with other medical specialties, the toughest cases may best be diagnosed and treated by a subspecialist. Voice disorders will require that very uncommon physician – the voice specialist.
    • Beginning with a General Otolaryngologist
    • Laryngology, the medical specialty focusing on voice care is a subspecialty of otolaryngology. Most voice problems, beyond the simple cold and flu, probably should be taken to an otolaryngologist. The overwhelming majority of voice problems can be resolved there.
    • Moving from General Otolaryngologist to Physician Voice Specialist
    • As with most medical specialties, there are several subspecialties within the specialty of otolaryngology (ENT). These subspecialties focus on a greater degree of expertise for the diagnosis and/or treatment of particular ear/nose/throat disorders. One of these subspecialties, laryngology, focuses on disorders of the larynx or voice box.

    Voice disorders may best be treated by physician voice specialists whose clinical practice is focused on voice disorders. (For more information, see Voice Care Team.)
    A Good Test

    • Diagnosis Within Three Visits or Three Weeks
    • A very happy fact about voice problems is that almost all can be diagnosed, by a qualified physician voice specialist, virtually immediately – sometimes on-site, sometimes after a separate test or two, but almost always within three weeks or three visits. If diagnosis is taking longer than that, it may be prudent to seek an appointment with a dedicated physician voice specialist.
    • Embarrassment of Changing Doctors
    • There’s almost no adequate reassurance that can be given here. It’s just difficult for a patient to explain he wants to seek a second opinion. Still, you should know this is very, very common. Further, if there is any area where a general physician or even an otolaryngologist should be forgiven for needing a further specialist called in, it is the narrow terrain of serious voice problems. Sorry the advice here is not more helpful.

    IV. Search for the Specific Doctor

    Finding a Dedicated Voice Specialist
    • No Everyday Requirement
    • By far, the larger number of voice problems can be well-tended by an otolaryngologist. The conclusions that follow apply to those less common circumstances when the patient feels “stuck” and in need of a dedicated physician voice specialist.
    • No Easy Search
    • Finding a true voice specialist in the United States is no easy matter. While there are tests and review boards to qualify doctors as specialists in some fields (cardiology, oncology, orthopedics and so forth), currently there is no official qualification for specializing in the voice in particular.

    Measuring the Doctor’s Focus – The “33% Test”

    • Though the test is imperfect, you may wish to divide out that small number of otolaryngologists who spend a third of their time seeing patients with voice problems. This will yield a small field, almost certainly fewer than 60 physicians, maybe as few as two to three dozen.
    • An Imperfect Test
    • The 33% Test is no absolute standard, more a rough test for the average patient to seek out the dedicated specialists. Surely, there are otolaryngologists qualified for the most serious voice conditions, though the majority of their practices are not patients’ voice disorders. There may be, as well, physicians more than 33 percent dedicated to the voice who, nonetheless, are not the right doctor for a specific voice problem.

    The Larger Lesson – High Volume of Voice Patients

    • Research has shown across many medical specialties that the quality of a physician’s care improves with the number of similar patients seen. High-volume open heart surgeons, all things being equal, should yield better heart surgery results. The patient “stuck” with a serious or chronic voice problem may be well served finding those few doctors who see the greatest number of vocal patients.

    Twenty Hours of Doing Your Own Research

    • A hard moment in seeking medical help is when, or if, the patient decides to do his own research to find the right specialist. This work can be aggressive – many telephone calls, lots of technical reading – but likely will not require more than 20 hours of dedicated effort. Some layman’s tips for research – truly nothing more than that – are offered below.

    Finding a Voice Specialist

    1. First “Leads” for the Patient’s Own Research
      1. Medical Associations wherein some, most or all members are physician voice specialists [listed in alphabetical order] – all have websites

      2. Choir Directors – Musical Directors – Singing Teachers: Major Choirs, Operas, Schools

        Across the course of their singing careers, almost all professional – or simply serious – singers will seek the medical care of a physician specializing in the voice. Taking care of their own singers, most choir directors, musical directors or creative directors of large choirs and opera companies will know the names of physician voice specialists. (The larger the choir or opera company, the better the chance the musical director will know a voice specialist.) A few phone calls (or e-mails) to such groups may start the research process.

      3. Major University Hospitals

        Some university hospitals and academic medical centers have created dedicated voice centers with one or more otolaryngologists focused on voice care. The problem here is a little “hit or miss.” All university hospitals will have a physician to whom they refer voice problems. That is not to say, however, that the designated physician truly will be a voice specialist, dedicating some large portion of his practice to voice problems. Some of the largest and most famous academic medical centers in the country have no particular expertise in the voice.

        Even so, a round of phone calls to the larger university hospitals, asking for “leads” to the nation’s best-recognized voice specialists should yield results. You may want to ask, in particular, the advice of the chairman of the department of otolaryngology or the chief resident (physician in training) in “ENT” – ear, nose, and throat.

        There are over 100 academic medical centers in the United States. Information on each (including links to their respective websites) can be found on the public website of the national society of academic medical centers – the Association of American Medical Colleges.

        Association of American Medical Colleges
        2450 N Street, NW
        Washington, DC 20037-1126
        Phone: (202) 828-0400
        Fax: (202) 828-1125

      4. This website offers a layman’s strategy to finding a voice doctor in our “Resources” section. It can be found here.
    2. The Likely Case: Be Prepared to Travel

      The scarcity of dedicated physician voice specialists there are in the United States is an important factor that is difficult to overstress. Some of the country’s largest cities, with populations in the millions, offer no doctor whose practice is largely dedicated to voice care. Most voice conditions do not require such specialization. If, however, your case does, the larger chance is that you will need to travel beyond your own state or region.

    Verifying a Specialist’s Qualifications
    • No Layman’s Test for Quality
    • In the end, the patient’s ability to know the professional expertise of a physician is limited, especially in as narrow and technical a specialty as the voice. Most patients can’t know. The same holds true even for referring physicians.
    • Attributes of a Large Vocal PracticeThat a physician sees some large number of vocal patients is no guarantee of quality or technical expertise. Still, in the absence of a better measure, knowing whether a physician’s practice – the doctor’s time, the staff’s training, the medical equipment available – is largely focused on vocal care may be helpful. Unquestionably, some number of voice disorders require this principal focus.
    1. Typical Attributes of Dedicated Voice Centers
      1. Physician voice specialist
      • Staffed by otolaryngologists who specialize in voice disorders
      1. Multidisciplinary voice care team [on-site or available by easy referral]
      • Speech-language pathologist
      • Voice therapist
      • Nurse
      • Medical and surgical sub-specialists
      1. Specialized voice testing [on-site or available by easy referral]
      • Laryngoscopy:Videostroboscopy
        • Rigid or telescopic laryngoscopy
        • Flexible or fiber optic laryngoscopy
      • Laryngeal electromyography
      • Voice function testing
      • Double-probe pH monitoring
      1. Specialized surgical procedures for voice disorders
      • Phonomicrosurgery
      • Laryngeal framework surgery
      • Neural re-innervation
      1. Physicians whose research has been published in peer-reviewed publications
      • Not a requirement, but a plus as with all medical specialties
      (For more information, see Overview of Voice Care ProfessionalsLaryngoscopy/StroboscopyPhonomicrosurgeryReflux Laryngitis chapter section on pH monitoring.)
    2. Final Caution: Subspecialization Even Among SpecialistsThere is trouble enough for many patients simply finding a physician who specializes in voice conditions. The further problem, all but too much to handle, is that all physician voice specialists do not claim expertise in all voice conditions. There are deep spikes of subspecialization within the subspecialty – practices focused on one or more of the following: vocal fold cancer, vocal fold paresis/paralysis, reflux laryngitis, recurrent respiratory papillomatosis (RRP), laryngeal reconstruction-rehabilitation, spasmodic dysphonia and so forth.Once the patient has a specific diagnosis, it is always a worthy question to ask, “Doctor, if your family member had this condition, who would you suggest as the one or two or three best doctors in the country to handle the treatment?”

    V. Various Medical Complexities

    Red Flag Symptoms
    1. Visiting a Physician Immediately
    1. While it is true that most voice conditions do not involve more serious underlying problems, there are some symptoms worthy of a physician’s immediate attention. A partial list of red flag symptoms is offered below.
      Image Red Flag Red Flag Symptoms – Warranting Immediate Attention
      Any One of Five Symptoms
      1. Difficulty breathing – especially breathing in
      2. Coughing up blood
      3. Episodes of choking on food and liquid – aspirating, food getting stuck, food and liquid going down the wrong way
      4. Hoarseness and ear pain
      5. Gradual deterioration of the voice – greater and greater hoarseness or vocal fatigue setting in across weeks or months (with or without accompanying pain)
    The Problem of Simultaneous Voice Conditions
    1. When No One Diagnosis Is Enough
    1. There is a growing view among some of the nation’s most-respected physician voice specialists that most “stubborn and persistent” voice conditions involve more than one underlying problem or diagnosis. In this view, it’s as if a single problem often may not be enough to reduce the larynx to chronic fatigue, hoarseness or significant trouble speaking. Rather, it’s as if the voice struggles along at acceptable levels until the accumulation of voice problems puts the larynx “over the edge.” Only then does the patient seek treatment.
    2. The Special Difficulty in DiagnosisSpotting multiple, simultaneous voice conditions is a highly sophisticated art, generally requiring the attention of a dedicated physician voice specialist. The practical problem for the patient and physician is that once a first problem has been identified, the natural temptation is to assume that explains the whole of the problem. The result often may be too simple a diagnosis, too simple a treatment, and some confusion when the problem does not resolve.
    3. Needing to Treat Each Problem SeparatelyWhen multiple and simultaneous voice problems are at work, it may be necessary to treat each problem separately to recover the patient’s voice.
    4. Common Clusters of ProblemsThe experience of some of the busiest voice practices suggests there are some common clusters of voice problems, separate diagnoses that – for whatever reason – often are found together in chronic vocal conditions. Some of the more common clusters are listed below.
      1. Common Clusters of Voice Problems
        Cluster #1
        • High-demand voice user
        • Vocal fold scarring
        • Vocal fold nodules, polyps or cysts

        Resulting symptoms: hoarseness, vocal fatigue, effortful phonation

        Cluster #2
        • Reflux laryngitis
        • Vocal fold granuloma

        Resulting symptoms: hoarseness, frequent throat clearing, vocal fatigue, pain on speaking

        Cluster #3
        • Vocal fold paralysis
        • Muscle tension dysphonia

        Resulting symptoms: hoarseness, breathiness, effortful speaking, vocal fatigue

        Cluster #4
        • Spasmodic dysphonia
        • Anxiety or stressful situation
        • Muscle tension dysphonia

        Resulting symptoms: strained strangled breaks in voice or breathy breaks in voice

        Cluster #5
        • Smoking history
        • Vocal fold cancer

        Resulting symptoms (any combination): hoarseness, past or present smoker, pain to ear, difficulty breathing

        Cluster #6
        • History of endotracheal intubation
        • Joint mobility problems
        • Vocal fold scarring
        • Paralysis or paresis
        • Vocal fold granuloma

        Resulting symptoms: non-resolved hoarseness after intubation, pain on speaking

        Cluster #7
        • Excess voice use
        • Vocal fold hemorrhage

        Resulting symptoms: acute severe voice loss following screaming/shouting (voice abuse) or performance or demanding voice use

        Cluster #8
        • Psychogenic aphonia
        • Physical and/or sexual abuse

        Resulting symptoms: “tip of the iceberg”; physician voice specialists have observed cases of complete loss of voice as presenting symptom of underlying abuse

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    The Problem of Cancer
    1. Cancer of the Vocal Folds and Larynx Reasonably Uncommon
    1. Less than three to five percent of voice conditions are caused by vocal fold pre-cancerous lesions and cancer. The most common kind of vocal fold cancer is the squamous cell carcinoma. More importantly, the most common risk factor for vocal fold cancer is smoking – past or current.

      Precancerous lesions on the vocal folds or vocal fold atypia are more common. These lesions are thought to precede vocal fold cancer.

    2. Possible Cancer Symptoms

      Though cancer can present in many ways, some of the more common clusters of symptoms for vocal cancer are:

      • Persistent hoarseness especially in a smoker or past smoker
      • Hoarseness + pain to the ear
      • Worsening hoarseness
      • Difficult or noisy breathing
    3. Cancer Need Not Involve Pain

      Laryngeal and vocal fold cancer may or may not involve pain. Lack of pain is not an assurance of no cancer.

    4. Diagnosing Vocal Fold or Laryngeal Cancer

      Using a scope placed down the throat, an otolaryngologist or voice specialist may be able to see visible signs of cancer including hemorrhagic lesions, growths protruding outwards, and growths immobilizing part of the vocal folds. To confirm a cancer diagnosis, the physician must do a biopsy, removing a portion or all of the growth for laboratory pathology testing.

    5. Problem with Single Biopsies

      Increasingly, physicians are of the opinion that a single biopsy of a growth may not be enough to locate cancer within the growth – one sample may have “missed” the cancer. The better practice may be removal of the whole growth including a margin or edge of normal tissue.

    6. Problem with a Simple “Yes” or “No”

      Not surprisingly, diagnosis may not be as simple as “cancer” or “no cancer.” Areas of the larynx and vocal folds can have premalignant (precancerous) lesions. These early changes in the health of the tissue need to be addressed aggressively as well. (For more information, see Laryngeal Atypia and Early Cancer.)

    7. Most Early Cancer Treatable with Voice Preservation

      Most early cancers of the larynx and vocal folds can be treated with preservation of the voice. Vocal fold cancer treatment and voice preservation are no longer incompatible. (For more information, see Laryngeal Atypia and Early Cancer.)

    8. Avoiding Total Removal of the Larynx

      The traditional and conservative approach to more serious cases of laryngeal cancer has been to remove the larynx – leaving the patient without any natural voice, wholly dependent on a mechanical voice box. While still necessary in some cases, this is no longer the state-of-the-art practice at some of the largest voice centers.

      In many cases, larynx cancer surgeons now are able to preserve the voice box while successfully removing all of the cancerous growth. The result typically can be to leave the patient with a usable voice without the need for a device in cases which otherwise might have left the patient with no voice at all.

      Urgent Second Opinion
      A physician’s recommendation to have the larynx removed (a total laryngectomy) should trigger the search for a second opinion.
    The Problem of Laryngitis
    1. A Deeply Unhelpful Diagnosi
    1. Patients commonly diagnose their own hoarse voices as laryngitis. Similarly, physicians may offer a diagnosis of laryngitis.

      The problem is that laryngitis simply means “inflammation of the larynx or voice box” manifesting itself as hoarseness. It does not uncover the underlying reason for the laryngitis. The work doesn’t begin until the patient and physician search for the root cause of the “laryngitis.”

    2. Laryngitis With a Cold or Flu

      The most common form of hoarseness is caused by a viral infection resulting in the common cold or flu. While common, this form of laryngitis should not last long. The hoarseness almost always clears up within two to three weeks after the rest of the cold or flu symptoms are gone. If hoarseness continues long after the cold or flu, likely there is some problem other than the typical flu-related laryngitis, or complications may have occurred that require medical attention. This is especially true for smokers.

      Repeated Caution
      A Critical Point
      A Voice Problem Beyond a Few Weeks Is Not Likely Viral Laryngitis
      What the layman thinks of as “laryngitis” – losing your voice with a cold or the flu – should not go on long. Cold- or flu-related laryngitis usually passes within two to three weeks of the rest of the symptoms of the cold or flu. If it doesn’t, there may be complications or another voice disorder that was worsened by the bout of the flu. Lingering horseness should not simply be ignored as something that will someday go away.

    3. Other Causes of Laryngitis

      Beyond the cold or flu, there are numerous causes for hoarseness. Some of the more common causes are cited below.

      Common Causes of Hoarseness
      • Reflux laryngitis
      • Vocal fold scar
      • Damage to the vocal folds from excess talking or shouting – vocal fold hemorrhage
      • Vocal fold paresis
      • Vocal fold lesions
    4. Side Problem of Cold or Flu – Vocal Fold Paresis/Paralysis

      Though the phenomenon is uncommon, a common cold or flu can leave the nerves serving the vocal muscles partially paralyzed (paresis). The thinking here is that, as with the herpes virus, the virus may affect the nerve and weaken it or deaden it altogether. The result is one or both vocal folds becoming weak or sluggish.

      Improvement in voice function can be achieved even if one has vocal fold paralysis (total paralysis). (For more information, seeVocal Fold Paresis / Paralysis and Laryngeal Electromyography [LEMG].)

    The Problem of Voice Rest
    1. Not Generally the Right Treatment
    1. Although voice rest is indicated in specific treatment situations, its role in treatment is usually only a part of the treatment plan. Though often prescribed, voice rest is not definitive treatment for most causes of voice disorder. Voice rest simply allows time for the vocal folds to recover on their own – from fatigue or swelling or irritation. The root cause of the voice disorder needs to be identified and specific treatment or treatments prescribed.

      1. Deciding on Voice Rest
        Voice Rest Usually Appropriate Voice Rest Usually Not Helpful
        Current best practice: needs medical attention for voice problem
        Recovering from pushing the voice too long, too hard Persistent hoarseness that was unresponsive to a three-week course of voice rest
        Recovering from vocal fold surgery Worsening hoarseness
        Voice fatigue from overuse Hoarseness + difficulty breathing in or swallowing
        Recovering from vocal fold hemorrhage Hoarseness lasting longer than three weeks, especially in smokers
      2. Limit of Three Weeks Vocal Rest – Usually

        As a practical matter, very few conditions require voice rest beyond two to three weeks. If the patient’s voice remains fragile thereafter, some other cause should be examined and some other treatment should be pursued.One exception is vocal fold hemorrhage – wherein voice rest may be prescribed for a longer period in some cases. The distinction here is that a definite diagnosis has been made, and a physician voice specialist is following the patient’s progress.

      3. Months of Voice Rest a Red Flag
        Image Red FlagRed Flag
        A patient advised to continue voice rest after two to three months likely should seek a second opinion from a physician voice specialist. Likely, the patient is suffering some problem for which rest is no complete answer.
    Most Common Diagnoses for Patients Truly “Stuck”

    The “Big Five” For patients truly stuck with chronic voice problems, perhaps as many as 80% of the cases can be explained by one or a combination of five diagnoses.

    The Big Five Diagnoses

    1. Vocal fold scarring
    2. Reflux laryngitis
    3. Muscle tension dysphonia
    4. Vocal fold paresis
    5. Problems following surgery and intubation
    6. Joint mobility problems
    7. Vocal fold scarring
    8. Paresis or paralysis
    9. Vocal fold granuloma
    Most Missed and Underdiagnosed Conditions
    Very Common – Often Missed

    There are five common conditions that cause or contribute to voice problems, but may be missed on the more casual examination. Patients with long-standing voice problems may want to ask to be specifically evaluated and treated for each.

    Diagnoses Often Overlooked

    • Vocal fold scar: Voice problems due to total or partial loss of pliability of vibrating layers of the vocal folds.
    • Vocal fold paralysis/paresis: Total or partial loss of function of laryngeal nerves that control voice box muscles that close the vocal folds during sound production and open them during breathing
    • Reflux laryngitis: Voice problems due to stomach fluid reflux washed into voice box area
    • Muscle tension dysphonia: Effortful and abnormal voice production done in compensation for underlying voice problem(s)
    • Spasmodic dysphonia: Strained or strangled breaks in the voice, or sudden breathy voice breaks resulting from a dystonia

    (For more information, see Vocal Fold Scarring, Vocal Fold Paresis/Paralysis, Reflux Laryngitis, and Spasmodic Dysphonia.)

    Reflux and Paresis and/or Scarring – common contributors to multifacttorial voice problems?

    Some physician voice specialists increasingly believe that acid reflux and/or nerve paresis (partial paralysis) and/or mild scarring (partial loss of vibrating layer pliability) are contributing factors in most of the more difficult chronic voice problems. One, two or all three may be present as contributors to the overall voice problem, in addition to the main voice problem.

    Harmful Conduct and Harmful Treatment
    • Smoking
    •      Deeply bad idea. But no news on that.
    • Gargling with Salt Water
    • This largely does not help and can cause damage to tissue.
    • Chronic Steroid Inhaler or Steroid Medication
    • Appropriate for asthma but not recommended as continuing treatment for voice problems.

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