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A throat polyp is a blister-like growth on the vocal cords typically caused by overusing or overexerting the voice. Smoking and medical conditions that affect stomach acid can also contribute to polyps. These growths are typically noncancerous, though they can lead to other problems if they go untreated.
People who use their voices heavily are more prone to developing a throat polyp. This includes people whose professions involve a lot of talking, shouting, or singing, such as teachers, performers, auctioneers, and radio and television personalities. The most common symptom and the first to typically appear is a general roughness or hoarseness of the voice, which may or may not be accompanied by a sore throat or a full feeling in the throat.
Many conditions can lead to hoarseness, and voice changes that persist for more than a week or two should be evaluated by a doctor. The doctor may use a thin instrument with a camera on the end called an endoscope to examine the vocal cords for signs of lesions or a throat polyp. If the doctor suspects the throat polyp may actually be a cancerous or precancerous lesion, he may remove a small portion of the sore to perform a biopsy.
People who develop a throat polyp are usually advised to rest their voices completely for several weeks to give their vocal cords a chance to rest and recover. This may not make the polyp go away completely, but it can reduce the symptoms associated with the growth and allow the patient's voice to return to normal. Patients with a throat polyp who smoke should discuss methods of quitting with their doctors to prevent the problem from getting worse.
Speech therapy, after an initial period of vocal rest, can help throat polyp patients learn how to take care of their vocal cords. These therapy sessions include exercises to help patients find their normal pitch because speaking, whispering, shouting, or singing out of normal pitch ranges on a regular basis can irritate the vocal cords. Inhaled steroids can help heal some polyps if voice rest and speech therapy do not reduce the patient's symptoms.
In severe cases that do not respond to more conservative treatment methods, surgery to remove a throat polyp may be necessary. Surgical techniques are typically reserved for patients with severe symptoms or extremely large polyps. A surgeon can use an endoscope to see the vocal cords, and special surgical tools are used to remove the polyp. Some patients experience permanent voice changes after undergoing surgery to remove a growth, so it should be a last resort option, particularly for patients who rely on their voices for their occupations.