Vocal Cord Lesions

What are vocal cord lesions?

Vocal cord nodules, polyps, and cysts are benign (non-cancerous) growths that occur along the edges or just below the surface membrane of the vocal cords. The vocal cords are two bands of elastic muscle tissue, located side by side in the larynx just above the trachea. Like any other tissue in the body, vocal cords can be strained and damaged which can result in hoarseness, breathiness, multiple tones, loss of vocal range, vocal fatigue or loss of voice.

Vocal cord nodules

Vocal cord nodules are small, callus-like growths forming in the midpoint of the vocal cords. These are the result of overuse or by vocal abuse such as screaming or yelling. They occur in pairs, one nodule on each cord, at the point of greatest irritation. They are often referred to as singers’ nodules.

Your doctor will ask about your medical history. They will listen to the quality and sound of your voice and then inspect your vocal cords. To get a better view of your vocal cords, they will perform a procedure called a laryngoscopy. This is when a small flexible camera will be inserted through the nose and down to the larynx to visualize the vocal cords. Additional tests, such as computed tomography (CT) scans may be needed depending on the lesions.

Identifying and correction of the underlying voice abuse cures most nodules and prevents recurrence. Removal of the offending irritants including allergies and reflux allows healing and is necessary to prevent a recurrence. Voice therapy with a speech therapist reduces the trauma to the vocal cords caused by improper singing or protracted loud speaking. For some patients, minimally invasive laryngeal surgery can be an effective treatment for these lesions.

Vocal Cord Polyp

Vocal cord polyps are small, soft growths usually on one vocal cord. They can vary in size but are usually larger than nodules. A common cause of polyps is a single traumatic event—for example, a sustained period of yelling, when the vocal cords hit against each other, they become irritated and inflamed turning into a polyp.  Another type of vocal cord polyp, polypoid corditis (Reinke’s edema) is associated almost exclusively with smoking.

Vocal Cord Cyst

Vocal cord cysts are growths which are sac-like structures that are filled with mucous or semisolid material.  Cysts may form when irritation on a vocal cord results in the obstruction of a glandular duct. If this duct becomes clogged, a buildup of mucus occurs and may lead to the formation of a cyst. Cysts mostly occur on the midpoint of the vocal folds and are usually deeply embedded.