Restoring Voice to the Voiceless
When we face losing our voice, we may feel challenged not just functionally but emotionally as well. Our natural way of communicating—something most of us take for granted—is interrupted, which then affects all other facets of life. Even if it’s not a complete loss of voice, change in voice quality can lead to major impact on our sense of identity and quality of life. It’s common at this point to wonder if a return to “normal” is possible moving forward.
The good news is that there are many effective modern treatments to restore the ability to speak and sing! But it’s important first to understand how voice is created as well as common causes of voice loss.
How We Speak and Sing
Production of a normal voice can be broken down into three processes, in this order:
- First, our lungs generate a flow of air as we breathe out.
- As the air flows through the voice box, it drives the vocal cords into vibration (like strumming a pair of guitar strings) in order to create sound.
- The resonance of that sound is then shaped as it echoes through the throat and as words are articulated by movements of the tongue and lips.
Causes of Voice Change or Loss
Hence, voice may be “lost” in a number of ways—for example, if nerve impulses to the voice box are disrupted (vocal cord paralysis) or if the voice is severely affected by age-related changes (presbyphonia). In these situations, patients may have little to no voice or a very weak, “breathy voice”.
Vocal “accidents” such as a bleed of the vocal cord and subsequent polyp formation can also lead to significant disruption of normal vocal quality. Polyps and other benign lesions are like blisters or calluses of the vocal cord related to voice use. Even small lesions can cause big problems for singers. Other causes include trauma to the voice box and vocal cord cancer.
Even if it’s not a complete loss of voice, change in voice quality can lead to major impact on our sense of identity and quality of life. The good news is that there are many effective modern treatments to restore the ability to speak and sing, according to @WilliamGaoMD https://bit.ly/2CusGyk @MedStarWHC @MedStarGUH @MedStarHealth
Treatments to Restore the Voice
Because voice disorders can be complex, a multidisciplinary approach is critical. At MedStar Washington Hospital Center, we regularly work with experienced speech language pathologists to achieve a tailored treatment plan for each patient.
The best treatment option to achieve voice restoration depends on the diagnosis and individual patient factors. For example, a vocal cord injection using a filler material can be used to treat vocal cord paralysis to push a paralyzed vocal cord back toward the midline, where it can contact the vocal cord that is working normally. An advantage of this procedure is that it can often be performed in the office with local anesthesia, avoiding the need for an operation and general anesthesia.
Medialization thyroplasty is a surgery that can create a similar effect by placing a permanent implant to push a paralyzed vocal cord to meet the normally functioning one. In certain cases, laryngeal reinnervation can be an effective surgery to restore nerve connections to the larynx.
For other causes of vocal disturbance like benign lesions such as polyps, either laser treatment in the office can be used as a minimally invasive approach or phonomicrosurgery for precise removal of the lesion in order to restore voice. Even early vocal cord cancers can be successfully removed with laser microsurgery while restoring and preserving excellent voice quality.
How We Can Help
If you or a loved one has suffered from persistent hoarseness or lost your voice entirely, the first step is to figure out the exact cause. Our team employs comprehensive evaluation including advanced diagnostics such as laryngeal stroboscopy (a look at the voicebox) to determine a diagnosis.
At MedStar Washington Hospital Center, we provide many state-of-the-art treatment options that let us address the needs of the individual patient and tailor an optimal approach.
We are committed to improving and restoring the human voice, with the goal of having our patients reclaim their quality of life and resume a normal lifestyle as quickly as possible.
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