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Vocal Cords & Smoking

By Catalina Logan ; Updated August 14, 2017

Smoking is a form of vocal cord abuse. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, or NIDCD, frequent vocal abuse can damage the vocal folds and cause changes in the way your voice sounds and works, and may even cause you to lose your voice. But the possible effects of smoking go beyond making your voice change.

Smoking and Laryngeal Cancer

According to the NIDCD, hoarseness is not just a common symptom of vocal abuse or misuse; it’s also one of the first signs of cancer of the larynx, or laryngeal cancer also known as vocal cord cancer, throat cancer or cancer of the glottis. The NIDCD stresses the importance of visiting the doctor, preferably an otolaryngolotist, for smokers if vocal change is experienced for more than two weeks. An otolaryngolotist is a physician or surgeon who specializes in diseases of the ears, nose, throat, and head and neck.

Smoking and Voice Changes

The New York University Voice Center notes that smoking and exposure to smoke--even if you’re not the one who lights up the cigarette--can irritate and dry the tissues of the throat, in particular the vocal cords. Improper vocal cord vibration and function can result. According to NYU, smoking can also promote acid reflux, which affects the vocal cords, and smoking also degrades lung function leading to decreased airflow through the vocal cords.

Throat Cancers: Risk and Recovery

Risk for developing throat cancer--higher for those who smoke or use other tobacco products--is higher for men, who are ten times more likely than women to develop throat cancers, according to a New York Times health guide. Most cancers of the throat develop in adults over 50. If detected early, throat cancers can be cured in 90 percent of patients.

Vocal Nodules

According to experts interviewed by, nodules can develop on your vocal cords as a result of your smoking habit, leading to vocal changes.

Clear Abuse, Unclear Recovery

If you quit smoking, there’s no guarantee your vocal cords will be restored to health, though eliminating the irritant that is cigarette smoke should definitely help. Doctors who are vocal experts are often employed by major record labels to talk to recently signed artists who may smoke, to convince them of the importance of maintaining vocal cord health and avoiding smoking.

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