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Vital Signs

Spring 2006

Prolonged Hoarseness Needs Diagnosis

The voice, such a fundamental part of our individual identity, can easily be taken for granted—until it becomes impaired. “A lot of the way we present ourselves to the external world is locked up in our voice,” says Gerald Berke, M.D., director of the UCLA Voice Center for Medicine and the Arts. “Often, when people lose their voice, they will withdraw from social interaction.”

In most cases, Dr. Berke says, voice problems are easily diagnosed and treated— often merely through lifestyle changes.
The new UCLA Voice Center treats not only patients experiencing medical problems, but also singers and other professionals who use their voice for a living and want to learn to use their vocal cords more effectively. The facility is staffed by speech therapists and vocal coaches as well as physicians.

Anyone experiencing persistent hoarseness for longer than two weeks should seek medical attention. The most common cause
of hoarseness is gastroesophageal reflux disease and is treated primarily through dietary changes and a six-week regimen of
medications that will reduce the amount of acid in the stomach. Other causes include nodules or polyps that develop on the vocal
cords, or scar tissue in the back of the larynx resulting from vocal cord abuse; they are often treated with medication,
though surgery may be required.

In the rare cases when vocal changes are the result of pre-malignant or malignant tumors, treatment is much less invasive
than it was even five years ago, Dr. Berke says. New laser approaches enable some patients to have lesions removed on an
outpatient basis, under local anesthesia.

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