Voice & Swallowing Disorder

Voice & Swallowing Disorder Specialist

When patients experience a voice and swallowing disorder, the normal course of their lives is often disrupted. At the Roswell Center for Ear, Nose, Throat and Allergy they understand that a person’s voice is often their livelihood, and provide a number of treatment options for a wide range of conditions that affect vocal and swallowing functions.

Voice & Swallowing Disorder Q & A

What are swallowing disorders?

When an individual’s ability to swallow normally is impaired, a swallowing disorder is present. Problems can include an inability to sufficiently move food to the back of the throat or trouble moving food through the esophageal tract. Aspiration occurs when food or liquid enters the trachea instead of the esophagus.

Aspiration is a serious matter, and can lead to recurring pneumonia as well as a blocked airway and an inability to properly breathe. Swallowing disorders are caused by a number of factors, including degenerative disease affecting the nervous system, tumors within the throat, or the aftereffects of a stroke.

What are the common causes of vocal disorders?

When an individual experiences changes in their vocal function, vocal cord nodules and polyps are often the cause. Nodules and polyps are both growths that can occur on either one or both of the patient’s vocal cords. Vocal abuse such as yelling or otherwise straining the vocal cords can lead to nodules and polyps. Nodules appear as soft, swollen spots. Polyps are usually larger than nodules and sometimes appear on a stalk or in a blister-like shape.

Fortunately, there is a wide variety of treatment options available for patients suffering from vocal disorders. Behavioral changes are effective for some patients, such as changing the way that the voice is used. Surgical intervention is an option for patients who have suffered from vocal disorders for a significant length of time and for whom other treatment options have been unsuccessful.

Is throat cancer a common cause of swallowing or vocal problems?

While throat cancer is not a common occurrence, individuals who are suffering from difficulty in normal vocal or swallowing function should always seek treatment to determine the source of the problem.

In some cases, cancerous cell growth within the thyroid gland first becomes apparent through impaired ability to swallow properly or through changes in an individual’s voice. Thyroid cancer is rare, but the treatment outlook for patients suffering from this disease is good, primarily because so many cases are caught in the earliest stages of the disease.

Swallowing Disorders / Dysphagia

Dysphagia is a swallowing disorder where the patient is not able to move food from the mouth to the stomach. This condition is often linked to a neurological disorder such as stroke, Parkinson’s disease, cerebral palsy, Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Dysphagia can also be related to bacterial, viral, or fungal infections. Dysphagia can affect any of the 3 stages of swallowing: oral, pharyngeal, and esophageal.

Depending on the type of swallowing disorder, a variety of noninvasive and minimally invasive treatments to alleviate the condition. For example, changes to the diet, physical therapy, swallowing therapy, drug therapy and in some cases, Botox® injections can help. In extreme situations, the patient could need surgery or feeding tubes.

Flexible endoscopic evaluation of swallowing (FEES) is a test performed to diagnose swallowing difficulties. FEES is performed endoscopically, with a thin, lighted camera known as an endoscope placed into the throat before the patient consumes several different foods with food coloring that can be easily monitored as they travel down the throat.

Modified barium swallowing study is also known as a cookie swallow or a videofluoroscopy, a modified barium swallowing study is performed to diagnose swallowing or speaking problems. Patients fast for several hours before the test. Then for the test, the patient will be given a contrast solution to swallow, which will highlight the various structures associated with swallowing and speaking onto the fluoroscope used during this exam. Patients are then asked to swallow numerous barium preparations of differing consistencies so that the doctor can watch the barium travel down the esophagus.

A mastoidectomy is the surgical removal of infected air cells within the mastoid bone. These air pockets are typically due to mastoiditis, ear infections, or other inflammatory conditions of the middle ear. When the bone becomes infected, it can lead to further complications including facial paralysis.


The mastoid is the bone between the ear and the jaw. Recurrent and untreated ear infections can eventually spread to the bone which causes further discomfort and symptoms including fever and swelling. Mastoiditis is most common in children and can be treated with antibiotics. In rare cases surgery such as a mastoidectomy may be needed to remove infected bone.