People with voice and swallowing disorders may experience changes in their voice sound or function, as well as difficulty swallowing or frequent choking while eating. Voice and swallowing functions are important for obvious reasons: swallowing brings nourishment to our bodies, and voice allows us to communicate. But, many people don’t realize that the vocal cords play a prominent role in the swallowing process. In fact, the primary purpose of the vocal cords is to prevent food and drink from entering the airway when we swallow. While many people experience temporary problems with voice and swallowing after an illness or infection, when problems persist for weeks after the illness is resolved, they need to be evaluated and treated.
Causes of voice problems can be temporary, such as when you are cheering too long at an athletic event, or when you have a cold or other illness that can cause swelling in the vocal chords. However, if you have voice changes that persist for more than 2-4 weeks after your illness, you need to be evaluated to rule out more serious medical conditions, such as vocal cord polyps or cancer.
Swallowing is a complex action requiring the involvement of the brain, nervous system, throat, esophagus and more than 25 different muscles. When people have difficulty swallowing, known as dysphagia, it could signal a serious underlying condition, such as autoimmune disease or cancer. Additionally, difficulty swallowing may result in frequent food and beverage aspirations, which could lead to lung scarring, and even asphyxiation.
How are voice and swallowing disorders diagnosed?
Dr. Sigari will conduct a thorough physical examination, including a comprehensive medical history. Additional tests will depend on your specific condition, but may include endoscopic examination of the throat and vocal tract, imaging studies such as CT scans and MRI, vocal assessment by speech and language specialists, and other appropriate tests.
How are voice and swallowing disorders treated?
Treatment will depend on the causes for your specific condition, and may include medications, surgery, treatment of underlying conditions such as thyroid disease or reflux, speech therapy, and lifestyle modifications, such as smoking cessation. Dr. Sigari will discuss all the treatment options with you.