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Vocal Cord Polyps and Nodules

Vocal cord nodules are benign (noncancerous) growths on both vocal cords that are caused by vocal cord misuse. Over time, repeated misuse of the vocal cords results in soft, swollen areas on each vocal cord. These areas develop into harder, callous-like growths called nodules. The nodules will become larger and stiffer the longer the vocal misuse continues.

Polyps can take many forms. They can occur on one or both of the vocal cords, and they can appear as swelling or a bump (like a nodule), a stalk-like growth, or a blister-like lesion. Most polyps are larger than nodules. Some polyps are broadly based and associated with smoking. This is called polypoid degeneration or Reinke's edema. One way to distinguish between nodules and polyps is to think of a nodule as a callous and a polyp as a blister.

Nodules and polyps may be treated medically, surgically, or behaviorally. Surgical intervention involves removing the nodule or polyp from the vocal cord. This approach only occurs when the nodules or polyps are very large or have existed for a long time. Medical problems may be treated to reduce their impact on the vocal cords. This includes treatment for acid reflux disease (GERD), allergies, and thyroid problems. Medical intervention to stop smoking or to control stress is sometimes needed.

Many people receive behavioral intervention or voice therapy. Voice therapy involves teaching proper vocal technique, reducing/stopping abusive vocal behaviors, and direct voice treatment to alter pitch, loudness or breath support. Stress reduction techniques and relaxation exercises are often taught as well.