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Treatment

For vocal cord disorders resulting from vocal abuse, there are two main treatments:

  • For short-term relief, rest your voice. Speak or make sounds only when absolutely necessary. Try not to talk or whisper at all for a couple of days.

  • For long-term relief, voice therapy. Learn the proper way to speak to avoid straining your vocal cords.

If rest and therapy don't resolve the disorder, other treatments are available. They are based on the type of disorder:

  • Vocal cord nodules may require surgical removal.

  • Most vocal cord polyps require surgical removal.

  • A contact ulcer may require surgical removal if it does not go away on its own after a minimum of six weeks of voice rest. You also may need voice therapy and treatment for acid reflux.

  • Laryngitis caused by a virus needs rest and fluids. Antibiotics are not helpful to treat routine infections.

  • Vocal cord tumors require surgical removal if they are noncancerous. They generally will not return.

    Treating cancerous tumors depends on the extent of the cancer. In the early stages, radiation, chemotherapy, surgery to remove a portion of the larynx or a combination of treatments may be needed. Some voice will remain after these procedures.

    In later stages of cancer, the entire larynx, including the vocal cords, must be removed (laryngectomy). You will need to learn a new speech method, using a special valve inserted surgically between the trachea and the esophagus. This allows air to be sent up the esophagus, creating enough vibrations for understandable speech.

  • People with vocal cord paresis or paralysis may be able to learn how to speak in different ways through voice therapy.

    If improvement is not satisfactory, surgery may be recommended to change the position of the affected vocal cord. Surgery can also add bulk by injecting the vocal cord with collagen, body fat or some other substance.

    These types of procedures are recommended more often when one of the vocal cords is paralyzed. Both techniques bring the paralyzed cord closer to the cord that is not paralyzed. This allows the cords to vibrate enough to make sounds.

    For people with two paralyzed vocal cords, the goal of treatment is to improve breathing. The most common procedure is a tracheotomy. This procedure creates a hole in the neck below the level of the vocal cords. A breathing tube is placed into the hole.

  • Vocal cord muscle weakness due to inhaled corticosteroids may require a change in medicines. That is, if using a spacer device does not prevent symptoms.

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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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