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What Is a Vocal Cord Polyp?

Chronic smoking can damage vocal cords.
The vocal cords lie above the trachea and below the epiglottis.
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  • Written By: C. Webb
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 14 March 2014
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A vocal cord polyp is a noncancerous, blister-like growth on the vocal cord. One can appear alone, or several can grow on both cords at the same time. They differ from vocal cord nodules in that nodules are hard and polyps are soft. The polyps appear as swollen areas, stalk-shaped growths, or lesions resembling blisters. The primary cause of polyps is voice abuse. Singers, stage actors, and sports coaches are examples of people with an increased risk of vocal cord polyp development.

Symptoms of polyps and nodules are similar and include a hoarse voice lasting more than two or three weeks. The voice can also become scratchy sounding. Feeling a lump in the throat or shooting pains in the ears are also signs that vocal cord polyps are present. The first sign of polyps for professional singers is often a decreased voice pitch range while performing. Overall fatigue is another possible symptom.

If left untreated, a vocal polyp eventually turns into a vocal cord nodule. Nodules are hard and feel like callouses. Treating vocal cord polyps prevents them from changing to harder-to-treat nodules.

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Diagnosis is done through an examination by a medical professional, typically an otolaryngologist, who specializes in diseases of the nose, ears, and throat. This exam usually involves visually examining the vocal cords with an endoscope. An evaluation by a speech and language specialist may also be ordered. In some cases, a neurological exam is included. The evaluation team studies the test results to make the diagnosis.

Treatment typically begins with resting the vocal cords. Prescriptions may be written for medication to treat contributing factors, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease or allergies. Voice behavior training to eliminate future abuse is another treatment option. In cases where these methods do not work, surgery to remove the polyps is performed. A combination of medical, behavioral, and, if needed, surgical intervention effectively treats most vocal cord polyps.

The majority of vocal cord polyps are benign, but on rare occasions they can become cancerous. When a vocal cord polyp is surgically removed, it is sent for a biopsy examination to determine whether it is malignant. If so, the patient is referred to an oncologist for evaluation and any needed treatment. A visit to a medical professional is recommended whenever voice changes are noticeable for more than two weeks, ear or neck pain develops, or other symptoms of a vocal cord polyp appear.

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