Disorders Affecting Swallowing or Voice

Disorders Affecting Swallowing or Voice 

The multidisciplinary Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery team at Penn State Health helps manage all voice and swallowing conditions, including difficulty swallowing (dysphagia). If you find yourself frequently coughing during meals, having issues swallowing or notice a difference in the sound or feel of your voice, it’s time to schedule an appointment with one of our Penn State Health otolaryngologists.

Patients with voice disorders can have affected speech. A majority of voice hoarseness comes from common causes like:

  • Acid reflux
  • Inflammation due to infection
  • Noncancerous (benign) masses
  • Overuse of the voice

Additionally, many people experience a natural vocal change due to using their voices in different environments, like work or home. Dysphagia can be caused by nerve or muscle problems, often following a stroke or cancer treatment.

Regardless of your voice issue’s cause, the first step is establishing an accurate diagnosis with the aid of the latest imaging and voice analysis technology. Our team works together to evaluate, treat and manage every patient’s voice and swallowing disorder.

Symptoms, Diagnosis and Outlook

Symptoms of voice disorders can include:

  • Decreased voice projection
  • Decreased volume
  • Loss of vocal range
  • Neck or throat discomfort with the use of your voice
  • Persistent hoarseness
  • Voice fatigue

Symptoms of dysphagia include:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Unable to get solid foods or liquids down the esophagus easily
  • Food or drink going down the windpipe (aspirating), causing a high risk of pneumonia
  • Coughing during mealtimes

Our Penn State Health otolaryngologists will examine both the structure and function of your vocal cords using a stroboscope, a high-definition video endoscope that helps visualize both your vocal cords and their vibrations.

Our team will order diagnostic swallowing tests for dysphagia patients to help guide the diagnosis and treatment plan. These tests can include:

  • Modified barium swallow X-ray series while you are actively swallowing: to determine the location and nature of your swallowing issues
  • Endoscopy: a small camera passed down the esophagus into the stomach
  • Manometry: a small tube inserted in the esophagus and connected to a pressure catheter to assess your esophageal muscle strength

If you or a loved one is experiencing any voice issues, don’t delay in getting treatment. Many people believe it’s normal to lose their voice as they age or fear they have throat cancer – but, in many cases, the issue is treatable. Catching an issue like throat cancer in its early stages has a higher cure rate, with an excellent voice outcome. If you are worried something is changing with your voice, don’t ignore the warning signs. Schedule an appointment with a Penn State Health otolaryngologist today.

Why Choose Penn State Health for Care

Specialized Multidisciplinary Care for Voice Disorders

Penn State Health offers leading-edge diagnostic tools and treatment option for voice disorders. Our well-coordinated care team includes highly trained specialists in otolaryngology, gastroenterology and general surgery, as well as speech and language pathology. Our team approach focuses on multidisciplinary collaboration to diagnose and treat your swallowing disorder.

Comprehensive Laryngology Treatment Options

Our Penn State Health laryngology experts will discuss all treatment options with you, including medical or surgical therapies. Treatment options can include office-based laser treatments, smoking cessation, medication, injections or surgery. If you need treatment for a mechanical voice issue, we will connect you with a speech and language pathologist for voice therapy. We all work together to achieve our ultimate goal: restoring your voice.

Specialization for Patients with Laryngectomies

If you require the removal of your larynx, called a laryngectomy, Penn State Health has a comprehensive program, offering pre- and postoperative counseling, voice prosthesis management and vocal rehabilitation. During your pre-surgical counseling, our speech pathologists and surgeons work with you to determine the best rehabilitation options, such as use of an electrolarynx, esophageal speech or tracheoesophageal puncture prosthesis. Our patients learn speech and swallowing rehabilitative techniques through speech therapy sessions scheduled at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

Commitment to Clinical Trials

The Penn State Health otolaryngology team is committed to furthering ear, nose and throat research and clinical trials in partnership with Penn State College of Medicine. To learn more about clinical trials available at Penn State Health, visit our StudyFinder.

John Gniady, MD, FACS

Often taken for granted, our abilities to eat, breathe and talk make up such a vital part of our existence, and even minor impairment can be such a detriment to our quality of life. Helping to restore patients’ capacity to use their voice, enjoy a meal or even just breathe without struggle is one of the most gratifying and fulfilling things that I get to do day in and day out here at Penn State Health.

John Gniady, MD, FACS

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