Disclaimer: This webpage is for information purpose only and is neither intended to be used as self-diagnostic tool nor to be considered in place of a qualified doctor's diagnosis/advise. Each patient's case is unique and treatment will depend on your physician's discretion.

Any condition that affects the performance of the voice-producing organ – the larynx – can cause a voice disorder. Usually, hoarseness is the main symptom, but laryngeal disorders can cause other, more subtle problems.


Common Symptoms of Laryngeal Disorders

  • Hoarseness or breathiness of the voice
  • Voice breaks
  • Limitations in pitch range
  • Limitations in volume and projection
  • Difficulty making oneself understood over background noise
  • Voice ‘fatigue,’ or discomfort and deterioration of the voice with prolonged use
  • Breathlessness while talking
  • Chronic throat clearing or coughing
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing

A wide variety of conditions can cause laryngeal dysfunction. A more complete description of each of these can be found by selecting the diagnosis of interest at left.

Any hoarseness that persists beyond two weeks, especially in a smoker, should be evaluated by a physician who can inspect the vocal cords.


Voice disorders can be highly subjective: that is, what may be a serious problem for one person may present little difficulty to another. Some of this has to do with a given person’s expectations, but a key factor is vocal demand. Simply put, vocal demand describes the vocal requirements of a given person’s daily life. Clearly, a singer or an actor will have different vocal demands from a teacher or a trial attorney, who in turn will have different vocal demands from someone who does most of his or her work on a computer keyboard, or someone who cares for a hearing-impaired individual.

There is no established way to quantify vocal demand. Generally, though, the longer and the louder one must voice throughout the day, the greater the vocal demand, and the more likely small irregularities in laryngeal function are to be troublesome. Also, different types of voicing – for instance, professional vocal performance – have lower tolerance for subtle changes in voice quality than others.

The professions most commonly evaluated for voice disorders are performing artists, teachers, attorneys, salespeople and other customer service personnel.

Because voice quality is subjective and vocal demands vary, the person with the disorder is usually the best judge of the severity and importance of the problem (assuming it is non-cancerous), and whether it justifies a proposed treatment.


In benign voice disorders, the role of the physician is to make an accurate diagnosis, and explain what options are available, including discussions of expected outcome and attendant risks. Needless to say, a physician who is fully informed of both your symptoms and of your vocal needs is best equipped to offer advice tailored to your problem.

Ultimately, a treatment decision, and especially the decision for surgery, should be made together with your physician, taking into account your vocal behaviors and vocal demands.


Stay hydrated:

  • Drink plenty of water. Six to eight glasses a day is recommended.
  • Limit your intake of drinks that contain alcohol or caffeine, which can cause the body to lose water and make the vocal folds and larynx dry. Alcohol also irritates the mucous membranes that line the throat.
  • Use a humidifier in your home. This is especially important in winter or in dry climates. Thirty percent humidity is recommended.
  • Avoid or limit use of medications that dry out the vocal folds, including some common cold and allergy medications. If you have voice problems, ask your doctor which medications would be safest for you to use.

Maintain a healthy lifestyle and diet:

  • Don't smoke and avoid second-hand smoke. Smoke irritates the vocal folds. Also, cancer of the vocal folds is seen most often in individuals who smoke.
  • Keep dust exposure to a minimum.
  • Avoid eating spicy foods. Spicy foods can cause stomach acid to move into the throat or esophagus, causing heartburn or GERD.
  • Include plenty of whole grains, fruits, and green leafy vegetables, rich proteins and milk in your diet. These foods contain vitamins A, E, C and Calcium. They also help keep the mucus membranes that line the throat healthy.
  • Wash your hands often to prevent getting a cold or the flu.
  • Get enough rest. Physical fatigue has a negative effect on voice.
  • Exercise regularly. Exercise increases stamina and muscle tone. This helps provide good posture and breathing, which are necessary for proper speaking.
  • If you have persistent heartburn or GERD, talk to your doctor about diet changes or medications that can help reduce flare-ups.
  • Maintain good posture and breathe through your nose while not speaking.
  • Eat at regular intervals, avoid skipping meals or overeating. Do not sleep immediately after dinner.
  • Avoid mouthwash or gargles that contain alcohol or irritating chemicals. If you still wish to use a mouthwash that contains alcohol, limit your use to oral rinsing. If gargling is necessary, use a salt water solution.
  • Avoid using mouthwash to treat persistent bad breath. Halitosis (bad breath) may be the result of a problem that mouthwash can't cure, such as low grade infections in the nose, sinuses, tonsils, gums, or lungs, as well as from gastric acid reflux from the stomach.

Use your voice wisely:

  • Try not to overuse your voice. Avoid speaking or singing when your voice is hoarse or tired.
  • Rest your voice when you are sick. Illness puts extra stress on your voice.Balance extra vocal demands with voice rest.
  • Avoid using the extremes of your vocal range, such as screaming or whispering. Talking too loudly and too softly can both stress your voice.
  • Practice good breathing techniques when singing or talking. Support your voice with deep breaths from the chest, and don't rely on your throat alone. Singers and speakers are often taught exercises that improve this kind of breath control. Talking from the throat, without supporting breath, puts a great strain on the voice.
  • Avoid cradling the phone when talking. Cradling the phone between the head and shoulder for extended periods of time can cause muscle tension in the neck.
  • Avoid mimicking natural sounds or animal cries to train your voice. Do not clench your teeth or tense your jaw and tongue while speaking to make your speech more dramatic/attractive.
  • Consider using a microphone when appropriate. In relatively static environments such as exhibit areas, classrooms, or exercise rooms, a lightweight microphone and an amplifier-speaker system can be of great help.
  • Avoid talking in noisy places. Trying to talk above noise causes strain on the voice.
  • Consider voice therapy. A qualified speech-language pathologist who is experienced in treating voice problems can teach you how to use your voice in a healthy way.