Voice Disorders

The most common cause of many voice problems is gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and laryngopharyngeal reflux. (The term "laryngopharyngeal" comes from the words "larynx", which means throat, and "pharynx", which means voice box.) The vocal cords are very sensitive to the caustic effects of acid from the stomach backing into the esophagus and throat. Professional voice users, such as singers, actors, announcers and other vocal entertainers, are all at particular risk from the effects of these disorders when under-treated.

The Esophageal Center offers access to physicians specializing in otolaryngology, as well as the latest technology to properly diagnose voice problems caused by reflux disease. Esophageal Center physicians use laryngeal stroboscopy and acoustic analysis to create images of the vocal cords and graphical arrays (representative pictures) of the voice. Laryngeal stroboscopy uses specially timed flashes of light to capture images of vocal cord vibration. While vocal cords normally vibrate too quickly to be visible, stroboscopy allows for a "slow motion" view of those vibrations -- much like the slow motion effect of a strobe light on the way we see moving people or objects. Stroboscopy provides the physician with detailed information about the functioning of the vocal cord.

Acoustic analysis uses a computer to measure 22 important characteristics of the sounds of the human voice. These types of analysis help the physician understand the problems both a professional singer or the professional voice user (such as a telephone operator) may be experiencing from laryngeal reflux disease. Together, stroboscopy and voice analysis are used to measure how well medical or surgical treatments are working.

Once diagnosed, successful treatment of GERD or laryngopharyngeal reflux can often restore proper voice function and relieve hoarseness. Most voice problems can be helped with medications and changes in diet and lifestyle. In cases where diet changes and medications are not enough, advanced endoscopic outpatient surgery can be offered to the patient by members of the Esophageal Center.