Sometimes referred to as “singer’s nodules,” vocal cord nodules are callous-like growths that develop over time on the vocal folds that move to create sound.

While both men and women can be affected, vocal cord nodules are likely to more affect women 20 to 50 years old. Nodules are non-cancerous, but they can affect vocal quality and contribute to neck or throat pain. Vocal cord nodules are not the same as vocal cord polyps, which are similar growths that tend to be larger and contain more blood vessels.

What Causes Vocal Cord Nodules?

Vocal cord growths tend to progressively form from repeated instances of vocal cord strain, abuse, or misuse. Small nodules may develop from a single instance of extreme overuse, like what can happen when shouting or yelling for a sustained period of time. Nodules may also develop as a result of consistent vocal cord irritation caused by allergies or exposure to airborne irritants.

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What Symptoms Might You Notice?

If you routinely sing or use your voice to project, you may first notice a change in vocal quality or tone if you have vocal cord nodules. Nodules can also cause recurring or steadily worsening hoarseness, or a vocal tone that becomes more breathy or stained. Symptoms experienced may also include:

  • A scratchy voice
  • Sudden or sharp pain that extends to the ears
  • Discomfort within the neck or throat area
  • Feeling like there’s a constant lump in your throat
  • Not being able to change vocal tone or pitch easily
  • Vocal fatigue – e.g., a voice that trails off or fades

How Is a Diagnosis Made?

Because vocal changes or throat irritation can have many different sources, diagnosis of vocal cord nodules usually involves the use of a special instrument to view the inside of the throat and the vocal cords. Another instrument that may used to view the vocal cords is one that delivers a series of flashing lights.

What Treatments Are Available?

When symptoms are mild, initial treatment may involve resting vocal cords or a recommendation to participate in voice therapy. Nodules may gradually disappear with this approach to treatment. But if there’s a desire for more immediate results, another option is to surgically remove vocal cord nodules. This treatment may also be recommended if other attempts at easing symptoms related to nodules have failed. However, surgery is not likely to be suggested for younger patients with nodules. Treatment may also involve:

  • Botox injections as an alternative to surgery
  • Steroid injections to reduce related inflammation
  • Treating underlying issues contributing to nodules, such as serve allergy symptoms or thyroid conditions

Using your voice wisely is the most effective way to reduce your odds of experiencing issues with vocal cord nodules. If you sing or use your voice to project and speak to groups of people on a regular basis, properly warm up your voice and use techniques that reduce vocal cord strain. Also, give your throat and vocal cords time to rest following times when you’ve strained your voice. Lastly, don’t ignore signs, such as a reduced vocal quality, that suggest something may be going on with your vocal cords that requires medical attention.