Dysphonia refers to having an abnormal voice, sometimes referred to as hoarseness. Changes to the voice can occur suddenly or gradually over time. For those affected by dysphonia, the voice can be described as hoarse, rough, raspy, strained, weak, breathy or gravely. There may also be voice breaks and pitch changes. Your child may even have a complete loss of voice for a period of time and sometimes may complain of pain when speaking or singing and the difficulty of projecting the voice.
There are many causes of dysphonia, but it is typically caused by an abnormality with the vocal cords, also known as vocal folds. However, dysphonia can also be a result of problems with airflow from the lungs or abnormalities with the structures of the throat near the vocal cords.
The best assessment for dysphonia is done by an Otolaryngologist (Ear, Nose and Throat doctor) in conjunction with a speech pathologist. An accurate history of the dysphonia and detail regarding the voice abnormalities, along with listening to the voice, will help the physician and speech pathologist understand the voice disorder.
A voice assessment is performed by the speech pathologist to determine how the dysphonia is affecting daily activities. Your child will also be asked to speak into a microphone, which records the voice and obtains results that are compared to voice standards.
A physical exam is important to visualize any abnormalities with the anatomy of the vocal cords. This exam is best done with a laryngoscope, a flexible tube with a camera attached. This flexible tube is passed gently through the nose to the back of the upper throat to avoid gagging and allows the physician and speech pathologist to visualize the entire throat and vocal cords. The exam is video recorded so that the physician, speech pathologist, parent and patient can visualize the structures of the throat and determine if there is a problem causing the abnormal voice. This exam is well tolerated in all ages and takes 1-2 minutes to complete in the clinic.
There are numerous causes of dysphonia which are detailed below:
Patients and family members are trained on how to properly use the voice in order for effective treatment. Most voice disorders are treated with some form of voice therapy by a licensed speech pathologist.
Surgery is sometimes necessary for certain voice disorders. Your child’s physician may also prescribe medication to help with inflammation of the vocal cords.
Understanding how to effectively use the voice without injuring the vocal cords is the most important thing your child can do to prevent dysphonia. Drinking adequate water daily, avoiding cough and throat clearing and using the voice appropriately without yelling or abusing the voice can help prevent dysphonia.
Any child that has changes to his/her voice that last for more than three weeks and do not seem to be improving should have a complete voice evaluation.
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