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Voice disorders


Where does voice come from?

Vocal cords are folds of tissue in the part of our throats called the larynx or voice box. When we breathe out, air moves across the vocal cords, causing them to vibrate and make sound. We use the muscles in the larynx as well as the tongue, lips, and teeth to turn this sound into speech. For many sounds, the back of the roof of the mouth, called the soft palate, moves up and back to keep air from going through the nose.

What causes voice disorders?

Voice disorders can be caused by different things such as:

  • tumors in the brain or throat that put pressure on the nerves,
  • certain medicines that can affect vocal cord function,
  • surgery,
  • stroke,
  • breathing problems, or
  • abuse or misuse of the voice like screaming.

If one or both of the vocal cords are unable to move, the person will have voice problems, and possibly breathing or swallowing problems.

What do voice disorders sound like?

Type of disorder Sound / cause
Pitch Speaking voice is too high, too low, or monotone
Loudness Too quiet, too loud, or uncontrolled
Quality Hoarse, breathy, rough, squeaky
Duration Voice tires easily or breaks
Resonance Nasal (whiney) or de-nasal (congested sound)

How are voice disorders diagnosed and treated?

The vocal cords can be examined by the ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctor by using an endoscope that is inserted through the mouth or nose. An endoscope is a camera and light that the ENT doctor uses to view the vocal cords movement when the person produces sound.

Treatment depends on the cause of the problem. If your child has an acute problem like bronchitis, medicine may help. Surgery may be needed for large nodules, polyps, or cancer of the larynx. Speech therapy may be needed to improve how the vocal cords move or the overall sound of the voice, like changing the child’s pitch, breath support, or loudness.

How can my child prevent further damage to the voice?

Your child should avoid the following:

  • Frequent coughing or throat clearing
  • Too much screaming
  • Speaking with the wrong pitch
  • Dehydration (the body does not have as much water and fluids as it needs)


If you have questions about voice disorders, call Rehabilitation Services at 901-595-3621. If you are inside the hospital, dial 3621. If you are outside the Memphis area, call toll-free 1-866-2ST-JUDE (1-866-278-5833), extension 3621.


This document is not intended to take the place of the care and attention of your personal physician or other professional medical services. Our aim is to promote active participation in your care and treatment by providing information and education. Questions about individual health concerns or specific treatment options should be discussed with your physician.

St. Jude complies with health care-related federal civil rights laws and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, or sex.

ATTENTION: If you speak another language, assistance services, free of charge, are available to you. Call 1-866-278-5833 (TTY: 1-901-595-1040).

ATENCIÓN: si habla español, tiene a su disposición servicios gratuitos de asistencia lingüística. Llame al 1-866-278-5833 (TTY: 1-901-595-1040).

تنبيه: إذا كنت تتحدث باللغة العربية فيمكنك الاستعانة بخدمات المساعدة اللغوية المتوفرة لك مجانا. .يرجى الاتصال بالرقم. 5833-278-866-1  (الهاتف النصي: 1040-595-901-1).