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What Is Voice Impairment?

C.B. Fox
C.B. Fox

A person who has a voice impairment may have a problem making the proper sounds needed to vocally communicate with others. These impairments may be caused by a problem in the speech center of the brain or by damage to or malformation of the vocal cords. Depending on the type of problem and the cause, these conditions may be temporary or may be something the patient will need to deal with indefinitely. For most patients, a vocal impairment is caused by overuse of the vocal cords.

Considered a type of linguistic impairment, a voice impairment directly affects a patient's ability to communicate verbally. The impairment may affect the pitch, volume, or quality of the voice, any of which can make it difficult for a person to be understood when speaking. These problems with the voice can also make the voice sound unusual to others, causing them to focus on the voice rather than on what the speaker is saying. Cognitive problems that affect the voice may make it difficult for a person to correctly produce sounds, creating speech that is slurred or unintelligible.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

The most common cause of a voice impairment is stress to the vocal cords. A patient may stress the vocal cords by yelling, screaming, or talking for an extended period of time. Environmental factors, such as the presence of pollutants and dust, or overly dry conditions can also cause a voice impairment.

Stress to the vocal cords can injure them, leading to the formation of growths that can create a voice impairment. If the stressors are removed promptly and the patient begins to take better care of the vocal cords, the impairment is usually temporary. Long-term misuse of the voice can cause a permanent change in vocal quality. People who speak for long periods of time every day are at the highest risk for developing this condition. For most of these conditions, a change in behavior is needed to treat the impairment.

Disease and injury can also cause a voice impairment. Conditions that affect the central nervous system may make it difficult for a person to properly control their vocal cords. Damage to the vocal cords themselves through illness, injury, or a growth, such as a tumor, can change the quality of the voice or cause a patient to lose his voice, either permanently or temporarily. These types of conditions can be treated with rest, medicine, or surgery, though there are some impairments that are incurable.

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