Have you lost your speaking or singing voice?

It’s easy to take your voice for granted…until you lose it. Or maybe you haven’t lost your voice completely but are experiencing symptoms that make it hard for you to speak or sing. These can include things like chronic hoarseness, vocal strain or trembling, unusual breathiness in your speech, involuntary breaks in your musical pitch, or neck pain.

Voice problems can have many sources. Weakness, tension or inflammation of the throat muscles, vocal chord paralysis, reflux, chronic coughing or cancerous growths can all impair your ability to get your words out. The staff at Phelps Hospital’s Institute for Voice and Swallowing Disorders is expert in the diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions that can impair the voice. Using state-of-the-art technology, our highly experienced diagnosticians will conduct a comprehensive evaluation and design a treatment plan to meet your individual needs.

Our patients range in age from pediatric to elderly and include people who use their voices professionally, such as singers, teachers, clergy and actors.

female teacher in classroom with students

Since voice disorders may indicate the presence of other undiagnosed conditions, we take a multidisciplinary approach to diagnosis and treatment. When you schedule an evaluation at the Center, our staff of laryngologists, speech pathologists, vocal pedagogists, gastroenterologists, neurologists, oncologists, and nutritionists will consider every possible reason for your disorder and develop a therapeutic approach that works for you.

We have the expertise to identify the reason for your impairment and restore your voice

Getting to the bottom of your voice troubles begins with a medical diagnostic examination. This will happen in two stages. First, one of our highly trained laryngologists will carefully and painlessly study the structures of your throat and vocal folds, at rest and in slow motion, using a flexible fiber optic laryngoscope, the only technique that can identify certain abnormalities. The laryngologist will also use laryngeal electromyography to assess the nerve function that controls the movements of your vocal folds.

Next, one of our speech-language pathologists will evaluate your voice by taking a thorough history of how you have used or over-used it, as well as your lifestyle, medications, medical history, eating and drinking habits, and singing background. By conducting an acoustic analysis of your voice, the pathologist can study your pitch, loudness, vocal quality, breath support, speaking rate, and vocal resonance. We will also evaluate your singing technique and style, whether you sing professionally or just for fun.

voice therapist with young girl practicing voice lessons while looking in a mirror

Our speech-language pathology staff features three voice therapists, each a trained singer who is specially educated in the newest and most effective techniques for identifying and treating voice disorders.

Many voice disorders call for rehabilitative therapy, which may include breathing exercises to reduce laryngeal tension and abnormal vocal fold movement and to relax the upper chest muscles, plus exercises to increase abdominal support and vocal projection.

We will tailor a voice therapy program—which typically lasts 6–8 weeks—to meet your specific needs. Afterward, we will reassess your vocal function and consider additional medical management if necessary.

The Institute for Voice and Swallowing Disorders offers a full spectrum of medical and surgical interventions, including:

We use cutting-edge technology to diagnose and treat swallowing disorders

Technically known as “dysphagia,” a swallowing disorder is the unsafe and inefficient movement of foods and/or liquids from the mouth to the stomach. Any swallowing disorder, no matter how it mild it may seem, requires attention. Undiagnosed or untreated swallowing problems can lead to inadequate nutrition or hydration, weight loss, and decreased quality of life. Some patients might accidentally aspirate, or breathe in, their food which can lead to aspiration pneumonia.

Swallowing disorders are highly treatable. The Institute for Voice and Swallowing Disorders at Phelps Hospital provides comprehensive diagnostic and therapeutic care to children and adults who experience swallowing conditions.

Swallowing disorders are common, affecting approximately 1 in 25 adults and 1 in 4 children in the United States each year.

doctor examining man's throat

How to recognize a swallowing disorder

Do you regularly have a lump in your throat? Do you gag or choke easily? Do you suffer from chronic hoarseness or coughing? After swallowing, does your voice sound wet and gurgling?

If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, then you may have a swallowing disorder. These difficulties come in all forms, and symptoms can range from mild to severe. They can cause some people to cough or choke during or after eating. They can make “messy eaters” out of others, impeding their ability to keep food in their mouth or causing them to produce excessive saliva. In some with swallowing disorders, food remains in the mouth after an attempted swallow. Others experience discomfort or a sensation of food sticking in the throat during swallowing.

Certain neurological or conditions that lead to decreases in motor or sensory function may increase a person’s risk for a swallowing disorder. Such conditions may include:

Structural disorders or surgeries may also lead to swallowing problems. These include laryngectomies, head and neck tumors, and tracheotomies. Scleroderma, a motility disorder, can predispose someone to a swallowing disorder, along with obstructive conditions like Barrett’s esophagus or esophageal cancer. Radiation and chemotherapy for head and neck cancers may also impede swallowing.

Have an expert, comprehensive swallowing evaluation

Schedule a comprehensive evaluation with our team if you or your child is:

having trouble swallowing
experiencing pain when swallowing food, liquid or medication
choking during meals
suffering from a history of one or more of the above related disorders
experiencing a sudden change in swallowing function following an acute event such as a change in medication, trauma or surgery

Our team of experts will conduct a medical evaluation using the latest technology, including a Modified Barium Swallow (MBS) study or a Fiberoptic Endoscopic Evaluation of Swallowing and Sensory Testing (FEES/ST).

We’ll help you manage your condition with personally tailored treatment plans

woman reading food labels

We can use the results of your evaluation to create a treatment plan designed specifically for you. This plan may include recommendations for changing the types of food you eat, the consistencies of those foods, and methods of eating.

You may also receive a prescription for swallowing therapy with one of our speech-language pathologists, which you will attend up to five times per week. Therapy may include practicing modified swallowing techniques, changing the amount of food and speed at which you eat, oral motor exercises designed to strengthen your lip, cheek and tongue muscles, or Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation (NMES) to re-educate the muscles involved in swallowing.