This is the medical term for a voice disorder which prevents a person from producing sounds from their vocal cords.

The vocal cords normally vibrate when air is exhaled from the lungs. This vibration takes the form of an open/close system which regulates this airflow and causes sounds to be produced. These sounds vary in tone and pitch depending upon the extent of the vibration.

Find out more in our how the throat works section.

But with dysphonia, this vibration is impaired –often due to an irregularity in the action of the vocal cords which then disrupts the production of sounds. For example, a weakness in part of the larynx can affect the sounds produced by the vocal cords which causes the voice to appear ‘rough’ or ‘discordant’.

Note: dysphonia must not be confused with ‘dysarthia’ – a medical condition which occurs as a result of a neurological injury or illness that results in speech impairment.

Someone suffering with dysphonia is able to articulate their words but the tone of their voice is affected. It is possible to understand what that person says but their voice will sound harsh, ‘breathy’or even weak.

This is a particular problem for singers who find that they are unable to reach the highest notes.

Causes of dysphonia

There are several causes of this which include:

  • Reinke’s oedema (affects the larynx)
  • Underactive thyroid
  • Inflammation of the larynx
  • Nodules on the vocal cords
  • Injury or surgery on the vocal cords
  • Chronic stress (may cause a loss of the voice)
  • Paralysis of the vocal cords

Symptoms of dysphonia

People with this condition experience the following symptoms:

  • Sore throat
  • Hoarseness
  • Nasal catarrh
  • Heartburn
  • Difficulty in swallowing
  • Earache
  • Loss of appetite

If you experience any of these then see your GP. This is especially important if you have had these symptoms for several weeks as they may be a sign of a more serious condition.

Your GP will examine your throat using a specially angled mirror or a flexible ‘telescope’which enables him/her to gin a closer inspection. Your GP may refer you for further investigation to an ENT specialist if necessary.

Treatment for dysphonia

This will depend upon the cause of the dysphonia and the individual concerned. If their dysphonia has been caused by their lifestyle, for example smoking or stress then changes will have to be made to their lifestyle.

This can mean giving up smoking (or avoiding a smoky atmosphere), reducing stress and resting the voice as much as is possible. Drink plenty of fluids during this time to prevent the throat from becoming dry.

In some cases, speech therapy will be needed, particularly for people who have nodules on their vocal cords.

If dysphonia is caused by a bacterial infection then antibiotics will be prescribed. These are not suitable for viral infections although over the counter remedies such as aspirin or paracetamol will help.

Surgery is another option although this is only considered as a last resort.

Find out more about this in our treatment for sore throat section.

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