Conditions of the throat can range from a simple sore throat to conditions that impact speaking, swallowing, and breathing, to serious issues like cancer. If you are experiencing a chronic cough, speech and/or swallowing problems, a sore throat that doesn’t go away, hoarseness, problems with your voice, or other issues, see your ENT specialist for a diagnosis, symptom relief, and treatment recommendations.
Throat, Speech and Swallowing Disorders
It’s hard to ignore a problem with the throat. Eating, swallowing, sleep and speaking can all be affected, impacting basic, everyday functions, and quality of life. Our physicians can evaluate your symptoms, diagnose underlying conditions, offer treatments, coordinate treatment with other specialists, and help prevent long-term complications.
An occasional cough is normal, and healthy for the body, as it clears irritants and secretions from the throat and lungs. But a cough that lasts eight weeks or longer in an adult, or four weeks in a child, could be a symptom of an underlying condition. The same is true of a severe cough that causes vomiting, lightheadedness, or pain. A chronic cough could be caused by postal nasal drip, asthma, sinus or allergy problems, a digestive issue like heartburn, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), or reactions to medications. Depending on the diagnosis, your physician may recommend allergy or asthma medications, antibiotics, or cough suppressants. For GERD-related coughs, acid blockers, lifestyle changes, or surgery may be recommended.
Sometimes when you have a dry or scratchy throat, you may also experience a raspy or strained voice, commonly described as hoarseness. Usually, hoarseness is caused by a swelling of the vocal folds which produce the sounds from the voice box, also known as the larynx. The result is laryngitis and changes in the voice. Hoarseness can also be caused by a cold or flu, vocal cord lesions, a vocal hemorrhage, gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) disease, smoking, neurological disorders, allergies, thyroid problems, injuries, and other factors. If hoarseness lasts more than two weeks, it’s best to consult a doctor for an evaluation. Recommendations may range from symptom management to voice therapy, surgery, or a combination of treatments.
Conditions related to the ears, mouth, tongue, and throat can result in problems with speech. These can include stuttering, speech impediments, difficulty forming words, slurred speech, and fluency disorders that make talking and communicating difficult. The best first step in diagnosing the underlying cause of a speech disorder is to be evaluated by your ear, nose, and throat specialist. Depending on the findings, your specialist may suggest treatment options, or refer you to a speech-language pathologist, speech therapist, or other medical specialists.
A voice disorder differs from a speech disorder in both the way it presents itself and the causes. Voice disorders are caused by a problem with the vocal cords, voice box, or larynx. Symptoms include a change in the voice quality which can sound like the voice is breaking, strained, higher-pitched, raspy, or hoarse. Common causes of a voice disorder include swelling of the vocal cords, also called laryngitis, or spasmodic dysphonia, a nerve problem that causes the vocal cords to spasm. The vocal cord nerves can also be affected by injury, stroke, or cancer, resulting in vocal cord paralysis. Treatment of voice disorders will depend on the exact diagnosis. Your specialists may recommend a coordinated treatment plan including doctors and therapists focused on your specific issues.
Vocal Cord Paralysis
When the nerve impulses to the voice box are interrupted, one or both of the vocal cord muscles can become partially or fully paralyzed. This can affect the ability to speak and in some cases, cause difficulty with breathing. Vocal cord paralysis can be caused by many factors, including viral infection, cancer, stroke, or an injury. Symptoms are wide-ranging but can include changes in the voice and ability to speak, noisy breathing, coughing when eating or drinking, and a feeling of needing to clear the throat. Depending on the cause and your symptoms, treatment for vocal cord paralysis may include surgery, medications, and/or speech therapy.
Pulmonary aspiration occurs when a foreign object is breathed into the lungs, usually food, liquids, or stomach contents. It can happen when a person has difficulty swallowing or is in a reduced state of awareness, as can happen with those who are comatose, under anesthesia, or inebriated.
Aspiration can also be related to esophageal disorders. The danger with aspiration is that matter lodged in the lungs can cause a bacterial infection, leading to pneumonia. Symptoms include difficulty breathing, coughing up mucus, hoarseness, fever, or a bluish tint to the skin caused by lack of oxygen. Aspiration pneumonia is generally treated with antibiotics. Sometimes, an individual may be evaluated by a speech therapist for aspiration potential, and dietary changes may be recommended, such as thickened liquids and soft foods.