Benign vocal cord lesions are noncancerous growths that may form on one or both vocal cords. They include nodules, polyps and cysts. Most lesions form because you’re overusing or misusing your vocal cords. Treatments include voice therapy, behavior changes to improve your vocal health and surgery.
Vocal cord lesions, also known as vocal fold lesions, can be benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous) growths that can form on your vocal cords. This article focuses on benign vocal cord lesions.
Your vocal cords are two bands of muscle and vibratory tissue inside your larynx (voice box). They come together and vibrate to produce sound when you speak, sing or use your voice in other ways.
Lesions on your vocal cords can change your voice, making it difficult or even painful to talk or sing.
Benign lesions include vocal cord nodules, polyps and cysts.
Vocal cord nodules, sometimes called singer’s or screamer’s nodes, can form if you’re repeatedly misusing or overusing your voice. These callus-like growths develop in the midpoint of your vocal cords. This part of the vocal cords gets used most often when you’re using your voice. Often, nodules develop on both vocal cords.
Anyone can get them, but they’re most common in children, heavy voice users such as teachers, trainers and coaches, and professional voice users such as singers and speakers.
Vocal cord polyps, like nodules, can result from repeatedly overusing or misusing your voice. They can also form after a single episode of vocal abuse (like yelling at a sports event). Polyps can vary in size and shape, but they’re usually larger than nodules. They typically form on one vocal cord, but the friction from a single polyp rubbing against the other vocal cord may cause an additional polyp to form.
A specific type of vocal cord polyp, polypoid corditis (Reinke’s edema), is associated almost exclusively with smoking. If you smoke and become hoarse, you should see a provider to evaluate you for this condition, as well as malignant growths.
Anyone can develop vocal cord polyps, but they’re more common after an episode of voice overuse such as yelling or a sudden loss of voice.
Vocal cord cysts are growths that have a sac around a fluid-filled or semisolid center. There are two types of vocal cord cysts: mucus retention cysts and epidermoid (sebaceous) cysts. Vocal cord cysts are less common than vocal cord nodules and polyps but can cause many of the same symptoms. They’re not necessarily associated with voice overuse.
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The most common symptom of a vocal cord lesion is hoarseness or a raspy voice. Still, symptoms depend on the lesion’s size and how much it interferes with your vocal cords opening, closing and vibrating together.
Nodules and polyps form over long periods of overusing your voice or using your vocal cords incorrectly. Speaking or singing for extended periods, yelling or straining your voice can all cause your vocal cords to become irritated and inflamed, eventually causing lesions. Singing (particularly in professional singers), screaming and frequent talking (for instance, if you’re a teacher, coach or salesperson) can all lead to nodules or polyps.
Other factors can make you susceptible to lesions or worsen them. These include:
Vocal cord cysts can form if a gland in your vocal cord gets blocked or fragments of cell debris get trapped inside vocal cord tissue.
A healthcare provider will examine your head and neck and ask how you’ve been using your voice. They may perform tests to examine your vocal cords directly, including:
Therapy can range from conservative behavioral, medical and dietary treatments to more invasive treatments like surgery.
To reduce your risk of developing a vocal cord lesion, you should avoid:
You can also put healthy habits into place to care for your vocal cords and reduce your risk of getting sick.
Get treatment for conditions associated with vocal cord lesions, like GERD, sinusitis, allergies and hypothyroidism. See a provider who specializes in voice if you’re concerned you may be developing a voice problem. Early interventions can often prevent invasive treatments such as surgery.
Your outlook depends on your lesion type and how severely it’s impacting your vocal cords. Untreated nodules, polyps and cysts can cause long-term damage to your vocal cords. Untreated cysts may potentially burst, causing complications.
With treatment, your outlook is excellent. Nodules usually improve within two to six months with voice therapy or vocal rest. Surgery to remove polyps or cysts, alongside voice therapy and vocal rest, can help return your voice to normal.
Untreated vocal nodules can cause you to further strain your voice and injure your vocal cords. Often, nodules improve with voice therapy and behavior modifications alone. Most people don’t need surgery. Still, you’ll need to learn ways to care for your vocal cords as they heal. Healthcare providers, like speech-language pathologists, can teach you how to use your voice so your nodes shrink or go away.
Vocal nodules are benign, which means they won’t cause damage throughout your body like a malignant (cancerous) growth can. Still, they can feel painful and affect your ability to communicate. If vocal health is an important part of your career and well-being (for example, if you’re a singer, salesperson, teacher, etc.), having vocal nodules can feel very serious.
The good news is that most vocal nodules are treatable without surgery. They’re also usually preventable if you’re taking steps to care for your voice.
Most nodules go away once you stop misusing your voice. Getting treated for underlying conditions that may cause vocal cord irritation can help, too. Working with a speech-language pathologist can help you identify what you’re doing that caused vocal nodules and what may be worsening them. Once you’re informed, you’ll know what behavior to change.
If you’re hoarse or have other symptoms of a vocal cord lesion for more than two to three weeks, see an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat doctor). Or visit a subspecialized laryngologist with extra training in caring for voice disorders.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Growths on your vocal cords can interfere with how easily and comfortably you communicate with others. The experience may feel especially stressful if your career depends on being able to speak clearly and project your voice. Don’t delay seeking care if you have ongoing symptoms of a nodule, polyp or cyst. Even benign vocal cord lesions can cause you to overcorrect your voice and damage your vocal cords. Often, preserving your vocal cord function is as simple as allowing your vocal cords time to heal and learning how to prevent future injury through voice therapy.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 12/29/2022.
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