Throat polyps

Throat polyps are small fleshy growths which form on the vocal cords, usually as a result of overuse. They are not cancerous and will either disappear on their own or respond well to treatment.

Causes of throat polyps

They are mainly caused by straining or overusing the voice, for example, public speaking. Professional singers, sports/fitness coaches or actors are all prone to developing throat polyps.

This is usually due to the fact that they shout or use their voices to a greater extent than most people.

Other causes include smoking, excess alcohol intake or medical conditions such as acid reflux.

Symptoms of throat polyps

In some cases the polyps are so small that the person affected is unaware of them. These polyps then break off and disappear inside the body or clear up by themselves.

But throat polyps can increase in size to the extent that they affect a person’s ability to speak.

The position of these polyps will determine the effect on the voice. They can change the pitch of the voice so that it becomes lower than normal or cause the voice to sound hoarse and croaky.

Throat polyps are not the same as a lump in the throat. They can not be felt or appear as a swelling in the throat. If you have a sensation of a lump in your throat then this likely to be caused by an infection or cysts on your tonsils.

Find out more about this in our lumps in the throat section.

Diagnosing throat polyps

See your GP if you notice any changes in the pitch or tone of your voice or your voice sounds hoarse. This is particularly important in regard to hoarseness as this can be an early warning sign of throat cancer.

Do not automatically assume that a hoarse throat means that you have throat cancer. The chances of this happening are very small but it is better for your peace of mind to have this checked out at your GP’s surgery.

Your GP will ask you about your medical history before examining your throat. He or she may use a throat endoscope –a small thin tube with a light and a camera mounted at the end to see inside your throat. This will enable him/her to have a close look at your vocal cords to see the extent of the polyps.

A biopsy is another possibility. Your GP may perform this or refer you to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist. He or she will remove a small section of one of the throat polyps in order to see if it is cancerous or not.

Another advantage of this is that it enables the specialist to see the size and growth pattern of the polyps and plan your treatment accordingly.

Treatment for throat polyps

This depends upon the cause. If you are a smoker then you will be advised to give up. Your GP can recommend a smoking cessation programme and advice about stop smoking groups.

If you use your voice as a profession, for example public speaking or singing then you will be advised to stop doing this, on a temporary basis, to allow your vocal cords time to heal.

It is difficult to stop talking altogether and especially if this how you earn a living but it is important that you do so. Avoid shouting or raising your voice at all times and limit the amount of talking that you do.

This treatment will hopefully shrink these polyps but if it fails to do so or your polyps are noticeable large then surgery is an option. This involves removal of the throat polyps, usually under a general anaesthetic followed by voice/speech therapy.

Are there any long term consequences of throat polyps?

If you are a singer or a professional speaker then it is natural to be concerned about your voice. You will worried about whether having polyps removed will result in a permanent change to your voice.

In other situations you may be concerned about the effect of the polyps on your voice. Will they alter the pitch or tone of your voice so that it is no longer acceptable?

Most people find that once their throat polyps have disappeared or have responded to treatment then they have no further problems. In these cases their voice remains as before or if it does change then this change does not affect their vocal ability.

But as with anything in life there is always a risk. There are cases where someone has undergone surgery to remove throat polyps only to find that it has changed their voice for the worse.

Your GP or ENT specialist will discuss the benefits and risks of surgery and throat polyps in general with you.

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