Your Voice Could Be Telling You Something

New Technology Detects Early Voice Box Warning Signs

Many people take their voices for granted.

But listening to your voice could give some clues as to what is going on in your body.

Voice problems can be related to acid-reflux disease, nerve damage, Parkinson's disease, even cancer.

Symptoms to listen for include:

  • Hoarseness that is persistent or that gets worse over time.
  • Loss of vocal range, especially the upper notes of the voice.
  • Loss of volume or ability to project a loud voice.
  • Loss of endurance, causing the voice to fade out over the course of the day.
  • Other symptoms include neck muscle pain or a sore throat.

Better Detection

A new high-tech camera is being used at Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu to see the vocal cords like never before.

High-speed photography records 2,000 images of the voice box per second.

"What this offers is a finer ability to diagnose certain voice disorders that we didn't have before," said Dr. Michael Holtel of Tripler. "If it's a problem with the folds, sometimes we can give them different treatments that we might not have recognized by just looking at the cords move. You'll never see those fine waves just by examining somebody with a standard scope or standard camera so that's the difference that we're hoping to find with this."

Better Diagnosis

    Unfortunately, the camera has not been widely used or accepted since there has been no way to interpret the images.

    However, Dr. Yuling Yan, a biomedical engineer with the University of Hawaii, has developed a method to interpret the images.

    She developed micro-plot images, which depicts normal and abnormal voices in a circular plot system. The more normal the voice, the more structured and circular the pattern.

    But, when an abnormal voice shows up, that could indicate anything from chronic hoarseness to cysts that could be cancerous.

    This software, says Yan, can help diagnose vocal disorders more accurately and also point to which treatments might work best for patients.

    The Future

      Both Holtel and Yan believe the high-speed camera could become part of a routine examination as the software advances.

      "I think this is new enough that we're still trying to find out where it's going to be most useful. We know it gives us a better picture of how the vocal cords move, so our hopes is that it will help us sub-categorize and treat certain areas differently. By being more precise in our diagnosis, we can better treat the patient," Holtel said.

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