Laryngology: If You Have A Voice Problem, Speak Up!
By Dr. Jonathan Romak, MD
The voice is perhaps the most powerful method of human communication and emotional expression. For most of us, the voice is vital for connection with friends and loved ones, and it is a professional necessity for many. Unfortunately, people often don’t realize the true importance of their voice until it fails them. When voice problems do occur, many people do not know where to turn or what, if anything, can be done to help.
Laryngology is a subspecialty of otolaryngology (ear, nose, and throat) that focuses on the structure and function of the larynx (voice box). Laryngologists are experts in the treatment of voice, swallowing and airway disorders. The only voice patients many people are aware of are high profile singers such as Julie Andrews and Adele. However, voice disorders are very common in the general population; particularly among professional voice users, and in people over the age of 65. The majority of professional voice users are not professional singers – they’re teachers, religious leaders, attorneys, salespeople, business executives, servers, actors, telephone operators and many others. In fact, approximately 30% of the working population in the United States are considered professional voice users.
The portion of our population made up of those 65 years of age and over is rapidly increasing. Currently, there are nearly 42 million adults in this age group, and that number is expected to nearly double by the year 2030, which will represent 20% of the total population. Several studies have examined the prevalence of voice disorders in older individuals, with estimates ranging from 12% to 47%. Many older individuals do not seek care for voice problems because they assume it is a natural part of the aging process. However, research has shown that nearly all elderly patients with voice disorders have another disease process affecting the voice in addition to age related changes. Voice difficulties have been shown in many studies to have a negative effect on quality of life. Conversely, treating a voice problem has been shown to significantly increase quality of life through improved physical, social and emotional health.
Voice production is an extremely complex process involving input and output from multiple organ systems within the body. Therefore, voice problems may have diverse causes including not only the condition of the vocal cords themselves (polyps, nodules, tumors, weakness, inflammation), but also lung disease, medication side effects, neurologic disorders and reduced physical conditioning, among others. Treatment of voice disorders depends on the underlying cause and is therefore equally diverse. Voice therapy, medical treatment and surgery are all potential options. Surgical intervention is usually recommended only as a last resort. Voice surgery is most often a same-day surgery. (no overnight hospital stay), and can sometimes even be performed in the office setting.
Laryngology is a relatively new and exciting field of medicine with the opportunity to dramatically impact patients’ quality of life and well being. If you or a loved one are suffering with a voice problem, speak up! The solution may be closer, quicker and easier than you think.
Dr. Romak completed his residency training in Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery at Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, and fellowship in Laryngology and Care of the Professional Voice at the American Institute for Voice and Ear Research in Philadelphia under the direction of Dr. Robert T. Sataloff. He practices laryngology and otolaryngology at ENT & Allergy of Delaware, which has four locations throughout New Castle County.
For further information regarding ENT and Allergy of Delaware please go to www.entad.org