When it’s More Than Laryngitis: Common Voice Problems in Children

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vocal problemsSpeaking requires effort and cooperation of multiple body parts. The vocal cords do not shape how your voice sounds on their own. It is the continuous effort of your lungs, chest muscles, tissues in your nose and the back of your throat, and nerves in the brain that work together as a team to give your voice it’s unique sound and strength.

Common Causes of Vocal Problems

Vocal strain or vocal abuse is an unpleasant side effect of many activities or illnesses. When vocal strain lasts beyond a couple of weeks or your child has a “froggy,” “squeaky,” or “hoarse” voice on a regular basis, it’s time to look at possible causes.

A doctor such as an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist can make a proper diagnosis of a voice problem. Some common voice problems are:

Vocal Polyps – fluid-filled sacs that can form on the lining of the vocal cords. Straining the voice only once, such as singing during a long, loud concert, can cause a polyp to form. Continuing to overuse his or her voice may cause the polyp to grow.

Vocal Nodules – small callus growths that can start on one side of the vocal cords. Long-term irritation from yelling, speaking loudly on a regular basis, chronic coughing or singing with stress and strain can cause vocal nodules.

Papilloma – a wart-like growth that can occur on the vocal cord area of children. Most occurrences happen to children under the age of six and require medical treatment to remove the growth.

Signs and Symptoms

Children with voice problems might exhibit some of the following behaviors:

  • Make squeaking sounds when speaking
  • Speak so soft that it’s difficult to hear them across the room
  • Have frequent bouts of “laryngitis” throughout the year or sound gravelly, hoarse, or harsh on a regular basis.
  • Frequent throat clearing.

Long-Term Effects of Voice Problems

In the early stages, voice problems may not cause any problems. Voice problems may present more as a nuisance unless there are underlying medical problems. What you and your child’s doctor should be concerned about are the long-term effects that voice problems can have on the quality and strength of your child’s voice. If left untreated, voice problems can impact their ability to communicate and participate in school and social settings.

A speech pathologist should work in conjunction with a doctor to provide therapy and behavior changes prior to undergoing surgery to remove polyps or nodules. Therapy may be temporary or ongoing and is often preferred over surgery, as repeated surgeries will take a toll on vocal cords and cause scar tissue and further irritation.

We generally don’t think that much about our voice or what goes into making it work properly, but the voice is a delicate instrument that requires great care.

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