What is the larynx?
The larynx, or voice box, is a cartilaginous structure in the throat that houses and protects the vocal folds (also called vocal cords) and speaker’s adam’s apple (or laryngeal prominence). The action of moving air over the opening of the larynx can produce sound, which is then modified by the resonance chamber – including parts such as the mouth, nasal cavity, or sinuses. This causes our voice to have different qualities depending on how we are breathing/speaking at any given time.
What does it do?
The main function of your voice is to allow you to communicate with people around you through speech. Your larynx also allows you to breathe while speaking so there’s no need to pause every few seconds. It works with your diaphragm and ribs to contract and relax air into your lungs so you can speak.
What happens when the larynx is damaged?
When it is damaged, there can be some serious side-effects for the speaker including issues breathing, eating, or even swallowing which are extremely dangerous in certain cases. People who have had their voice box removed may require a machine that does all their breathing for them because they no longer possess that ability themselves.
However, this doesn’t necessarily mean the end of communication through speech as technology has enabled people to use electronic devices similar to stomas (the opening created by removing the voice box) to help enhance speech output. One example of this is the speaking valve.
What are the visible effects of larynx damage?
As mentioned above, there are visible differences to someone’s neck when their voice box has been damaged; the changes to either a stoma or tracheostomy can be very noticeable due to the appearance of a tube in the throat. Other visible side-effects include neck swelling and scarring from surgery, although most marks caused by these conditions will fade over time.
Where does your voice come from?
Voices come from vibrations either through breathing or speaking. The vocal folds consist of two membranes that stretch across the larynx which vibrate when air passes between them due to muscle tension.
This causes sound waves which travel through the throat, nose, and mouth to communicate with others. The thicker mucus membranes in your nose help to project sound waves by concentrating them so they will pass through the nasal cavity more easily.
What causes larynx damage?
Larynx damage can occur due to a variety of reasons including cancer, smoking/long-term exposure to harmful chemicals (such as dry-cleaning fluids), drinking alcohol excessively, or during accidents that may cause someone’s throat or neck to be injured.
There are also some genetic conditions that can develop over time that increase the chance of voice box damage occurring including muscular dystrophy, cleft palate, and hereditary angioedema. However, there is no way of knowing if you will go on to develop these diseases so it is important to speak up if you have concerns.
What are the signs of larynx damage?
Signs that someone’s voice box may be damaged include hoarseness, loss of range when speaking/singing, neck swelling, pain when swallowing food or drink, frequent throat clearing or coughing, and chronic bronchitis. You should consult your GP immediately if any of these issues are occurring to you on a regular basis since they could indicate an issue with your voice box.
Who can help me?
Speech therapists specializing in working with people whose voices have been altered by changes to their larynx can provide support through behavioral approaches which teach new ways for the speaker to communicate. This includes developing awareness of which parts of the throat are being used when speaking, learning how to correctly position the tongue and lips for different sounds in order to create clearer speech.
The voice is formed in the larynx (voice box) which has two main functions:-
1. To allow air to be pushed out of the body, permitting sounds to be made. This process is called ventilation; and
2. To regulate the sound that comes out of your mouth by increasing or decreasing its volume, frequency (pitch), or both while you speak.
There are a few different types of tissue in the larynx:
The epiglottis – a leaf-like structure that closes over the windpipe when we swallow food and liquids to prevent choking
The vocal cords – this is where the most sound originates from as they contain some elastic ligaments which are stretched and then released to create noise. The sound of the vocal cords is determined by their length, tension, thickness, and viscosity
The glottis – this is a space between the true vocal cords and where coughing, yawning, and swallowing takes place.
larynx and pharynx:
The larynx is connected to the pharynx, which leads down into the digestive system. This connection allows us to swallow food and liquids safely while we are breathing. Food or liquids that go down the wrong way can cause choking or even death.
Laryngitis is inflammation of your voice box (larynx). The most common reason people get this condition is because of a viral infection like a cold or flu. It’s also possible for laryngitis to be caused by allergies, acid reflux disease, chemical irritants, environmental pollutants, voice overuse (singing), smoking, and throat cancer treatments like radiation therapy.
Hoarseness is a change in the voice, usually from loss of volume or changes in pitch. It’s often caused by an irritation or injury to your vocal cords, but can also be caused by certain medical conditions such as laryngitis, acid reflux disease, and allergies.
Laryngeal (voice box) cancer begins in the cells that line your throat and voice box (larynx). Tobacco and alcohol use is linked to most cases of laryngeal cancer. Laryngeal cancer may be related to HPV infection, which is linked to an increasing number of oropharyngeal cancers (cancers of the back part of the throat including base of tongue and tonsils).
A hoarse voice is a condition where your voice becomes very husky or sounds deep, rough, breathy, raspy, or gravelly. This happens when the vocal cords are inflamed or irritated. This condition may be caused by smoking, shouting too much at sporting events, yelling at work, or having reflux disease (GERD).
Laryngopharyngeal reflux occurs when stomach contents containing acid flow up into the throat. Any irritation to the larynx caused by this will result in hoarseness. The cause of laryngopharyngeal reflux is not fully understood.
The voice is one of the most important ways that humans communicate with each other. Without the ability to speak, it would be difficult for us to carry on a normal life or find employment. When we injure our larynx through trauma such as a car accident or injury from using power tools, we experience pain and discomfort when speaking, swallowing, and breathing.
Laryngospasm refers to spasms of your vocal cords that cause you to make wheezing sounds while trying to breathe in (inspiration). Laryngospasm occurs due to irritation or damage to your larynx and can be extremely frightening if it’s not properly understood. The condition only lasts up to several minutes and does not cause any long-term damage.
The larynx has a number of muscles that perform different movements to produce sounds in the voice box. The two main pairs of muscles include the thyroarytenoid and cricothyroid muscle which have very different functions.
The thyroarytenoid muscle is responsible for moving your vocal cords to create sound while the cricothyroid muscle controls how quickly you breathe in air. When these two come under stress due to ill health, they can become weaker and/or cause pain when used.