Vocal cord polyps are noncancerous growths on the surface of the vocal cords (which physicians refer to as “vocal folds”). The most common symptoms of vocal polyps are hoarseness or a flutter in the voice.
Singers and professional speakers often assume that it’s normal to be hoarse after a long performance or speech. But that’s not true. Hoarseness, even if it is painless and it improves after a period of rest, can indicate the presence of a vocal cord polyp. If you have developed a polyp, it’s important to get it diagnosed and treated properly, as it will probably not resolve on its own. With repeated voice trauma, polyps can grow to a point where they are irreversible without surgery.
Your vocal folds vibrate many times each second when you speak or sing. Overusing your voice or using poor technique, can cause the vocal folds to swell. Over time, the swelling can thicken, and evolve into a polyp. Some polyps occur as the result of a single acute injury caused by yelling too much at a sports event. Others can develop gradually due to gastroesophageal reflux or chronic inhalation of cigarette smoke, stage smoke or industrial fumes. But for “vocational” voice users (who earn a living with their voice), the most common cause of polyps is repeated voice trauma without adequate periods of voice rest.
Polyps appear as growths, usually on a single vocal fold. They may be full of clear liquid or filled with blood, in which case they’re known as “hemorrhagic polyps.” They are generally bigger and bulge out from the vocal folds more than nodules.
Professional voice users (singers, voiceover artists, actors, teachers, attorneys and politicians) may experience a wide range of symptoms if they have polyps:
If you have symptoms of a vocal cord polyp, it’s important to see a qualified voice doctor. Dr. Korovin is a New York ear, nose and throat specialist, certified in head and neck surgery by the American Academy of Otolaryngology. She has long been known as a leading doctor to Broadway singers, pop musicians, actors and other professional voice users.
Dr. Korovin has expertise in state of the art diagnostic approaches to determine if you have vocal fold polyps in her New York office, including rigid videostroboscopy to examine your vocal folds in slow motion and flexible laryngoscopy.
In their early stages, polyps can often be treated with rest. Sometimes a course of steroids can be used. Not speaking in bad environments such as airplane cabins filled with dry, pressurized air or busses where it’s hard to avoid raising the voice due to ambient noise can help.
But some polyps may require surgery. They often irritate the opposite vocal fold. Without such treatment, they may cause long term complications including permanent hoarseness, scarring or loss of vocal range.