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Health A-Z

Medical Content Created by the Faculty of the
Harvard Medical School

Diagnosis

Your doctor will ask about your medical history. The doctor will listen to the quality of your voice and then inspect your vocal cords. This is usually done by holding a small mirror at the back of your mouth. To get a better view, the doctor may use a small, flexible lighted tube with a camera at the end. The tube is inserted through the nose to the larynx.

You will need to make certain sounds so your doctor can see your vocal cords in action. The examination may be videotaped so your doctor can analyze it later. This is all that is needed to diagnose most cases of laryngitis, vocal cord nodules and polyps.

In some cases, your doctor may recommend an acoustic analysis. This is a series of tests that measure the quality of your voice, including its pitch stability, range and intensity. Often, these tests are used when vocal cords are paralyzed or if a growth must be removed surgically. Using the test results, doctors and voice therapists can judge the amount of improvement after treatment.

Cancer of the larynx can look similar to a noncancerous growth or a contact ulcer. If an abnormality is found on the vocal cords, your doctor may do a biopsy. A biopsy involves removing a tiny sample of the affected vocal cord tissue so it can be examined in a laboratory.

Additional tests, such as computed tomography (CT) scans, may be required in some cases of vocal cord paralysis or cancer.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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