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Diagnosis & Treatment for Voice and Swallowing Disorders

Finding the root cause of your voice or swallowing problem is vital to helping treat and manage your condition. The voice and swallowing care team at Virginia Mason Franciscan Health is experienced in working with and diagnosing a large range of voice and swallowing conditions. Some of the diagnoses evaluated and treated at the Voice and Swallowing Center include:

  • Cricopharyngeal disorder is caused by the muscle at the top of the esophagus, also known as the upper esophageal sphincter (UES), not relaxing to allow food to enter the esophagus, or when it relaxes in an uncoordinated manner. This can cause difficulty swallowing, along with other symptoms like aspiration, choking, coughing, noisy breathing and regurgitation.

  • Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) is a digestive disorder that affects the ring of muscle between the esophagus and stomach. This allows stomach acid to flow back up the esophagus, which can irritate the lining of the esophagus and cause discomfort such as heartburn, chest pain, difficulty swallowing, regurgitation of food, or sensation of a lump in your throat. Learn more 

  • Laryngeal or tracheal stenosis is the narrowing of the central air passages. This narrowing can occur at different levels of the windpipe. Narrowing may be caused from extrinsic pressure on the airway or from narrowing within the airway itself.

  • Trauma to the larynx can cause a range of symptoms, including difficulty speaking, hoarseness, noisy breathing, neck pain, pain when swallowing or coughing, and more.

  • Spasmodic dysphonia is a voice disorder that causes involuntary spasms in the voice box or larynx. This results in the voice breaks and having a tight, strained sound. This can cause issues ranging from trouble saying a word or two to not being able to talk at all. Learn more 

  • Vocal cord dysfunction (VCD) or paradoxical vocal fold motion (PVFM) is a laryngeal disorder that interferes with normal respiration. During an episode of VCD, the vocal folds close together to some degree (partially or fully) during inhalation and/or exhalation. This restricts the airway opening to the windpipe and may also result in voice changes or hoarseness. Often there will be associated stridor or a wheezing noise, especially when trying to breathe in. There may also be a sense of tightness in the throat or chest.

  • Vocal cord lesions are a common cause of voice problems. There are three types of vocal cord lesions: cysts, nodules and polyps. These are noncancerous abnormal growths on the vocal cord. The first sign of a vocal cord lesion is often a change in voice quality and hoarseness. Other symptoms include vocal fatigue, voice breaks, increased effort to speak or sing, frequent throat clearing, delayed voice initiation, and more.

  • Vocal cord paralysis is a condition that occurs when one or both vocal cords (or vocal folds) do not move properly. The lack of movement may be partial (paresis) or complete (paralysis), and the symptoms can range from mild to life-threatening. A person who has vocal cord paralysis may experience voice and/or swallowing difficulties. Vocal cord paralysis is caused by damage to the nerves or muscles of the vocal cord.

  • Zenker’s diverticulum is a pouch or pocket that forms at the junction of the lower part of the throat and the upper portion of the esophagus. This can occur when the cricopharyngeal muscle doesn’t function the way it should and fails to relax during swallowing. Patients experience symptoms when food gets stuck in the pouch, often creating an urge to clear their throat and coughing when the pouch spontaneously empties into the bottom of the throat. 

Treatment that’s right for you

The specialists at the Virginia Mason Franciscan Health Voice and Swallowing Center offer a range of specialized procedures to treat voice and swallowing disorders. Some of the treatments we offer include:

  • Botox injection
  • FEES (fiberoptic endoscopic examination of swallowing)
  • Laryngeal EMG
  • Modified barium swallow study
  • Phonosurgery
  • Swallowing therapy
  • Videostroboscopy 
  • Voice therapy

Get started

Schedule an appointment with a specialist at the Virginia Mason Franciscan Health Voice and Swallowing Center today.