Vocal Fold Atrophy

Vocal fold atrophy is a condition where the vocal cords gradually change as aging occurs. 

As an individual grows older, his or her vocal cords can become thinner and begin to lose structural integrity. This can cause the vocal cords to vibrate and bow improperly and can even lead to a gap between the vocal cords during speaking. This natural degeneration of the vocal cords is called vocal fold atrophy, or presbylaryngis.

The severity of vocal fold atrophy can vary from a slight thinning of the vocal cords to significant muscle loss.

What Causes Vocal Fold Atrophy?

Vocal fold atrophy is a condition caused by natural aging. Just as each individual ages differently, the severity of the condition can vary among people. In some rare instances, vocal fold atrophy can develop as a result of nerve damage.

What Symptoms Are Associated with Vocal Fold Atrophy?

Similar to the condition itself, symptoms of vocal fold atrophy can vary in severity. Common symptoms include:

  • Hoarse/raspy voice
  • Decreased volume
  • Increased fatiguing of the voice
  • The need to overexert while speaking
  • Lowered pitch in women
  • Raised pitch in men

How is Vocal Fold Atrophy Diagnosed?

There are a number of ways an individual can be diagnosed with age-related vocal fold atrophy. As a starting point, a healthcare provider may want to learn about the patient’s history and how his or her voice issues began. After learning the patient’s history, the healthcare provider may recommend one of the following diagnostic exams:

  • Video laryngostroboscopy – Using an endoscope and stroboscope (a device that produces flashes, making objects appear as if they are moving in slow motion), a laryngologist can identify structural changes in the vocal cords that are commonly associated with aging.
  • Speech pathology evaluation – This evaluation involves a collection of exercises led by a voice pathologist in an effort to determine the severity of vocal atrophy.

How is Vocal Fold Atrophy Treated?

The team of expert laryngologists at Tampa General Hospital are poised to treat vocal fold atrophy using:

  • Voice therapy—the most common form of treatment—that focuses on improving vocal and breathing techniques
  • Vocal cord augmentation that involves injecting filler into one or both of the vocal cords to achieve better closure between the vocal cords
  • Reconstructive surgery that replaces some of the bulk in the vocal cords that has been lost