Voice and Swallowing Disorders

Established in 1991, our voice and swallowing disorders team has helped hundreds of adults and children with conditions that affect their voices and swallowing.

Our team consists of experienced, highly trained team of professionals. They include:

  • A laryngologist (otolaryngologist) who specializes in larynx (voice box) and swallowing problems
  • A pediatric otolaryngologist who diagnoses and treats infants, toddlers and adolescents with feeding and swallowing difficulties
  • A neurologist who specializes in movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease
  • Speech-language pathologists who specialize in diagnosing and treating patients with speech, swallowing and voice disorders

Causes

Voice problems and swallowing disorders can be caused by:

  • Alcohol
  • Allergies
  • Aging
  • Birth defects
  • Cancer
  • Colds and respiratory infections
  • Constant clearing of the throat
  • Esophageal reflux
  • Infections
  • Injury
  • Menstrual cycle
  • Neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease
  • Scarring from neck surgery
  • Screaming
  • Smoking
  • Throat dehydration
  • Thyroid problems
  • Vocal strain or overuse

Symptoms

Common symptoms of voice and swallowing disorders include:

  • Constant urge to cough or clear your throat
  • Discomfort
  • Hoarseness
  • Swallowing difficulty

Conditions

The physicians at The University of Kansas Health System have helped hundreds of adults and children with conditions that affect voice and swallowing.

Many conditions that affect voice and swallowing include:

  • Dysarthria (a speech disorder caused by an injury to the nervous system)
  • Dysphagia (difficulty swallowing)
  • Dysphonia
  • Hoarseness
  • Laryngomalacia (The soft cartilage of the upper larynx, or voice box, collapses inward during inhalation, making it difficult to breathe.)
  • Laryngeal cancer
  • Laryngeal clefts (defect in the separation between the voice box and the esophagus)
  • Laryngeal fractures and scarring
  • Laryngitis
  • Laryngopharyngeal reflux (Stomach acid moves back up through the esophagus into the throat.)
  • Muscle tension
  • Recurrent respiratory papillomatosis
  • Reinke's edema (swelling or build up of fluid)
  • Sulcus vocalis (a groove in the vocal cord folds)
  • Tracheoesophageal puncture
  • Vocal fold granuloma (non-cancerous growth on vocal folds)
  • Vocal fold scarring
  • Vocal cord nodules, polyps and cysts
  • Vocal cord paralysis

Diagnostic tests

People develop vocal and swallowing disorders for many reasons, from vocal abuse to allergies to cancer. Our physicians have access to the industry's most advanced diagnostic tools to help determine the cause of these problems.

Diagnosis begins with a detailed history and a thorough physical examination. X-rays, CT scans and MRIs may be performed. Your doctor may also recommend some of the following tests:

  • This test measures irregularities in sound produced by the movement of vocal folds.

  • Vocal cord movement is measured through a non-invasive device that is strapped around the neck.

  • Small needle electrodes are inserted into voice box muscles to evaluate the health of the muscles and nerves.

  • Air is pushed through a small, flexible tube into the esophagus (the tube that connects the throat to the stomach) to determine its ability to generate sound.

  • A small probe is placed through the nose and into the stomach. The tube is connected to a computer that displays readings on muscle contractions.

  • A flexible tube with a light at one end and a camera at the other is inserted into the nose and into the middle of the throat. Pictures of the throat and voice box are taken as the patient swallows liquid and food.

  • This is performed as an add-on to the FEES test. Air pulses are delivered through the tube to evaluate swallowing ability and sensation.

  • A flexible tube with a light at one end and a camera at the other is inserted into the nose to allow doctors to view the vocal folds.

  • A catheter is placed through the nose into the throat to videotape the swallowing motion and to measure muscle contraction, strength and coordination of swallowing muscles.

  • A tiny mirror is placed at the back of the throat so doctors can inspect vocal folds.

  • A thin probe is placed through the nose into the throat to measure acid levels.

  • An in-clinic test where a thin tube with a camera is placed through the nose to throat and esophagus so the physician can view and assess swallowing problems.

  • As the patient swallows liquid or foods, X-rays are taken of the mouth, throat and esophagus. These show whether food and liquid are passing efficiently from the mouth through the throat and into the esophagus.

  • This procedure uses high-speed flashes of light to produce images of vocal folds in slow motion. Physicians and speech therapists study the detailed images to form accurate treatment plans for patients with voice disorders.

  • We can evaluate the voice and develop a treatment plan for professional actors, singers, voice talent and other patients. Our speech pathologists also provide voice therapy.

Treatments

In recent years, knowledge about how the voice functions has grown rapidly. This has led to development of increasingly effective treatments for both common and rare conditions.

Our voice and swallowing disorder physicians are the region's only specialists performing laser surgery for voice box cancer. They are recognized throughout the region as pioneers in the research and development of highly specialized surgical equipment and techniques.

Because there are many causes of voice and swallowing disorders, treatment is extremely customized based on your individual needs. Some problems can be treated with rest and fluids. Your physician may also recommend:

  • Botox injections to decrease muscle spasms
  • Comprehensive management of the professional voice
  • Laser surgery
  • Lifestyle changes
  • Medication
  • Reconstruction of the larynx
  • Surgery of the laryngeal framework
  • Surgery to remove lesions or other obstructions
  • Swallowing surgery
  • Swallowing therapy
  • Vocal fold injection (Injections augment the vocal chords, decreasing the space between them.)
  • Voice therapy