Vocal cords, also called vocal folds, play an important role in how we produce sounds. First there must be air in your lungs, which occurs through the act of inhaling. The air is then pushed through the lungs into your windpipe. At the top of the windpipe sit your vocal cords, which stay open when breathing and close when you produce sound. As the air gets pushed out of the windpipe, it passes between the vocal cords, causing them to vibrate. This vibration sounds like buzzing. This sound is passed through the throat, nose and mouth, which all work together to change the buzzing into speech.
There are a number of vocal cord disorders, most of which are accompanied by a change in your voice as well as hoarseness and a lump-in-the-throat sensation.
Vocal Ford Nodules & Polyps
Vocal abuse, which occurs when you use your voice too much or incorrectly, can cause soft swollen spots to form on the vocal cords. Slowly these spots can develop into hard growths called nodules. If left untreated, the nodules will continue to grow larger and stiffen. Polyps are created in the same way, except instead of forming hard growths they are blister-like and can grow faster and larger.
Vocal Fold Cysts
A vocal cord cyst is a firm mass of tissue contained within a membrane. Much like vocal cord polyps and nodules, the size and location of the cysts will directly affect the severity of your hoarseness or other voice problem.
Vocal Fold Paralysis
Vocal cord paralysis occurs when the nerve impulses to your voice box are disrupted. There are a number of possible causes of this condition, including:
- Viral Infection
- Neurological Condition
- Neck or Cheek Injury
- Injury During Surgery
Vocal cord paralysis can be bilateral or unilateral. Bilateral paralysis means both cords become stuck half open and half closed, and the cords are unable to move in either direction. Unilateral paralysis occurs when only one side is stuck or has very limited movement.
Vocal Fold Bowing
Vocal fold bowing is a condition that prevents one or both of your vocal folds from closing normally. Unilateral bowing affects only one fold, and bilateral affects both. When your vocal cords cannot close completely, your voice will sound breathy or weak.
Often, there is no known cause for the bowing. Some researchers believe that vocal fold bowing simply occurs naturally with age.