The most common symptom of any vocal cord problem is hoarseness. It is very important that hoarseness lasting longer than two or three weeks be evaluated. Persistent hoarseness can be a symptom of a serious condition, such as a cancerous growth on the vocal cords. Other causes are vocal overuse or abuse, cough, vocal cord swelling from cigarette use, acid reflux into the throat, infection, low thyroid, benign growths (cysts, nodules, granulomas), vocal cord weakness or paralysis, and sometimes neurological problems. The specific diagnosis can only be made by examining the vocal cords, which can readily be done in the office with a mirror or endoscope. Sometimes a brief surgical procedure under general anesthesia known as direct laryngoscopy or microlaryngoscopy is necessary to biopsy or remove abnormal vocal cord lesions.
Swallowing disorders can also be evaluated with examination of the throat. Further study, such as a barium swallow, may be necessary.
Acid reflux into the throat from the stomach is also a very common disorder, even without heartburn. This information sheet describes this condition: Laryngopharyngeal Reflux Disease