What causes voice changes?

Voice changes are extremely common and can occur in all age groups. The commonest causes are over-use of the voice and also infections such as laryngitis. It can occur as a result of exposure to noxious fumes, in particular tobacco smoke, and in some cases can be a sign of pre-cancerous or cancerous changes.

When should I have my voice changes checked?

Most people will experience some voice changes with colds and flu-like illnesses and these then to recover within a few days or a week. In this circumstance you don’t usually need to see a doctor. However, if your voice changes have persisted for more than three weeks then you should seek a consultation with your GP. If you are over 45 years of age, your doctor may send you to see an ENT specialist urgently to look for any worrying changes in your voice box.
If you have any other symptoms around your throat area alongside your voice changes, such as difficult swallowing, coughing up blood, difficulty breathing or lumps in the neck, then again, you should see your GP urgently.

Are all persistent voice changes serious?

Fortunately, the majority of people with persistent voice changes do not have a serious underlying diagnosis. We frequently look after patients who are singers, television presenters, teachers and other professional voice users whose voices have changed as a result of prolonged and excessive use. Common causes in this group of individuals include vocal cord nodules/singers nodules, muscle tension dysphonia and vocal cord cysts.

How do you examine my voice?

Following a detailed history, the best way to examine the voice box is to directly inspect the area. This is done via a small camera, a nasoendoscope, which is passed via the nasal passage. This allows us to examine the voice box and often provide you with an instant answer as to the underlying cause. This is done in the outpatient clinic, often using a local anaesthetic spray in the nose.

How can you treat voice changes?

Most of our patients can be managed with the use of our expert speech and language therapists who specialise in voice changes. By offering tailored ‘physiotherapy’ to the vocal cords and using exercises, many patients can return to normal function. Occasionally you may require a small operation to help improve your voice, often followed up with voice therapy.