When a rep for “Mad Men” star Jon Hamm announced that the actor would be having surgery for a vocal cord polyp, many people were probably left wondering…what on earth are vocal polyps?
Think of a blister on the vocal cords, and that’s pretty similar to a polyp. Although non-cancerous, vocal polyps can cause disruptive symptoms such as:
- Hoarseness or a rough-sounding voice
- Decreased vocal range
- Vocal fatigue
- Neck pain
- Pain from ear to ear
- The feeling of a lump in the throat
Sometimes, a single incident (perhaps yelling loudly at a concert) can cause polyps to spring up. But usually, they’re the result of abuse or irritation over time, from things like:
- Overusing the voice
- Talking loudly or singing often
- Heavy caffeine and alcohol consumption (this can dehydrate the vocal cords)
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
Whatever the root cause, vocal cord polyps can be treated in a number of ways. Surgery is sometimes recommended for extreme cases, or in instances when people have dealt with polyps for a very long time. If an underlying medical condition is the source of the problem, then that might be treated first.
Or if neither of those are the case, then vocal therapy or behavior modification might help. For those who use their voice often — such as teachers, lawyers, singers and actors — certain speech modifications might be beneficial. Behavior modification, which can include stress management, is generally more successful for those who smoke, or who drink alcohol or caffeine.
From our own Dr. Robert Pincus: “The vast majority of vocal cord polyps are due to vocal abuse. Almost always, benign vocal cord polyps respond to voice rest and therapy. Often treatment for reflux will help as well. Only rarely do vocal cord polyps need to be removed. Doing so should help bring your voice back to normal, but should the abuse continue, they can recur.”
There’s no one-size-fits-all rule about how quickly you should see a doctor if you have a hoarse or scratchy voice. But for many cases, two to three weeks of the voice sounding different can indicate it’s time for a visit.
If you’re having any of the symptoms above, feel free to set up a consultation. We’ll be here for you, ready to help you find answers.