People normally swallow hundreds of times each day. It’s an action we perform without thinking, unless there is a problem. Likewise, our voices also are used continuously. We speak and don’t notice how our own voice sounds except when it hurts or is a strain to talk.

Jason McChesney, MD, an expert in WVU Medicine’s Otolaryngology Department explains voice and swallowing conditions and their treatment.

What is a laryngologist?

A laryngologist has special expertise and training in the diagnostic and therapeutic approach to voice and swallowing disorders. These disorders include hoarseness, laryngitis, vocal cord polyps and lesions, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and laryngopharyngeal reflux disease (LPRD).

What is the most common voice problem?

Hoarseness is the most common voice problem. There are a number of possible causes for this condition, including upper respiratory infections, improper voice use, and recent surgery requiring a breathing tube. If hoarseness lasts longer than a few days, it may be due to more significant problems that should be evaluated by examining the vocal cords.

What are the symptoms of swallowing disorders?

Swallowing disorders can include the feeling of food or liquid sticking in the throat, frequent choking or coughing when eating or drinking, or sensing a lump in the throat. Some swallowing difficulties can be due to reflux. Swallowing disorders also occasionally can result from hypertension, diabetes, thyroid disease, stroke, a tumor in the throat, or other conditions.

Some medications, such as nitrates, antidepressants, calcium tablets, iron tablets, vitamin C, antipsychotics, and tetracycline, can also cause swallowing difficulties.

How is reflux treated?

Mild reflux can be controlled by changing some habits and behaviors such as eating smaller, more frequent meals and less spicy foods; eliminating tobacco, alcohol, and caffeine; losing weight and reducing stress; avoiding food before bedtime; and elevating the head of the bed a few inches. Patients experiencing symptoms of chronic reflux, such as swallowing problems, the sensation of having a lump in your throat, or throat pain, should be evaluated by a laryngologist for more extensive treatment options.

How are voice and swallowing disorders diagnosed and treated?

You will be asked detailed questions about your voice problems and a visual examination of your esophagus will be performed. In some cases a thin, flexible instrument (endoscope) may be passed down your throat allowing your doctor to see what is going one when you swallow. Depending on the severity of the problem, a solution can be achieved through behavioral therapy, diet, medication, or surgery.