The thyroid regulates numerous bodily functions ranging from neurological activity to weight regulation. One of the many areas affected by the thyroid, and more specifically thyroid nodules, is the throat. Any sort of thyroidal disruption can influence speech, ability to breath, and even swallowing.
To better appreciate the influence of the thyroid on throat function we must better understand thyroid disease and the impact of thyroid nodules.
A Quick Look at Thyroid Disease
Thyroid disease takes a variety of forms but can be divided into two broad categories: those that slow and those that accelerate thyroid activity. Hypothyroidism, the most common form of thyroid disease, reduces thyroid activity resulting in system-wide sluggishness. These effects can be seen in various regions. Hypothyroidism often causes weight gain, fatigue, slowed metabolism, and cognitive sluggishness. One of the leading cause of hypothyroidism is an autoimmune condition known as Hashimoto’s where the body’s own defenses begin to attack the thyroid resulting in a decrease of functionality.
On the other end of the spectrum, hyperthyroidism is a hastening thyroid function, which induces acceleration of many systems. This causes symptoms that are oppose or mirror those prompted by hypothyroidism. Thyroid acceleration is typically accompanied by anxiety, erratic energy levels, rapid weight loss, and difficulty focusing. Similar to hypothyroidism, the primary cause of hyperthyroidism is an autoimmune disorder known as Graves’ disease. Both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism, regardless of the cause, can lead to dramatic and widespread bodily dysfunction.
The Impact of Thyroid Disease on Speech
Thyroid hormones have a significant impact on voice. Multiple hormones, including thyroid, gonadal, and growth hormones greatly influence the body’s vocal structure and function. The most obvious examples of this is during puberty and menstruation where hormonal changes are rampant.
Consistent hoarseness of voice is highly indicative of hypothyroidism. Typically, the progression of voice loss occurs slowly over time making it difficult for individuals to recognize it. A deficiency of thyroid hormone can impede development of the larynx thereby influencing individual vocal quality. Alternatively, an excess of thyroid hormones does not appear to have a notable effect on speaking ability due to the already high-speed movement of the vocal cords.
The Need to Know on Thyroid Nodules
Thyroid nodules are small growths that may be liquid-filled cysts or entirely solid masses. They are a relatively common occurrence with an estimated one out of 15 women and one out of 50 men having one. Nodules can develop regardless if a person has a thyroid disorder or not. Typically, these growths do not pose any significant threat to health. However, they do have the capacity to influence thyroid activity and potentially cause serious dysfunction. Depending on its type and amount of growth, a thyroid nodule can increase or decrease thyroid function and inhibit the physical abilities of the throat.
There are four types of thyroid nodules: benign, malignant, suspicious, and inconclusive. The vast majority of thyroid nodules, roughly 90 percent, are in the benign category and pose no notable threat. The true danger lies in the estimated 5 percent of thyroid nodules that are in the malignant (cancerous) category. Size of nodule typically does not dictate its threat, however, larger nodules that expand aggressively are more likely to be malignant and affect physical ability. Fortunately, even if a nodule is malignant, thyroid cancer is considered to be one of the most treatable and survivable forms of cancer.
Recognizing Thyroid Nodules
There are various indicators that one may have a thyroid nodule. Usually symptoms correlate with hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, or alternate between the two. Typically, nodules are identified during thyroid checkups administered by a doctor. Depending on thyroid function and the type of nodule produced, you may experience a variety of symptoms.
Regardless if a person is suffering from a thyroid disorder, the following developments are indicative of a thyroid nodule which should prompt further medical attention:
- Difficulty breathing
- Difficulty swallowing
- Feeling constricted around the neck
- Lump in the neck
- Neck tenderness
- Pain and pressure in the neck region
One of the most surprising and perhaps jarring symptoms to accompany a thyroid nodule is hoarseness or loss of voice. Multiple factors are involved in the impediment of vocal activity regarding thyroid nodules.
Can’t Speak? It Might be a Nodule
The most common thyroidal impact on voice is due to thyroid nodules and an expanded thyroid, also known as a goiter. The thyroid gland is located below the larynx, more commonly known as the voice box, which dictates one’s ability to speak. When the larynx is constricted, one may experience hoarseness, changes in voice, and have other difficulty speaking. A thyroid nodule may contribute to compression of the larynx. As a thyroid nodule expands, it demands more space and can force itself or the thyroid into the space occupied by the larynx. This causes compression of the larynx, which can impede airflow and alter speech.
Because the thyroid is also in close proximity of the trachea, also known as the windpipe, there is a potential for airflow disruption. A large nodule or thyroidal expansion may compress the windpipe, which can induce coughing and inhibit one’s ability to breath. Typical treatment of an encroaching nodule is surgical removal. This is a common practice with low risk of complications. Because the process is so simple, doctors frequently prescribe removal of thyroid nodules regardless of their risk of malignancy. Most patients are fully recovered within two weeks following the procedure.
Breathing a Sigh of Relief
Thyroid function is a critical part of healthy bodily function. The development of thyroid nodules can influence thyroid function and impact one’s physical ability specifically regarding breathing, swallowing, and speaking. In some cases, thyroid nodules may directly influence thyroid ability by slowing or accelerating its activity. This may cause one to develop symptoms of hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism.
Even though thyroid nodules are rarely dangerous, if you find one, it is worth seeking medical assistance to confirm that it poses no threat to your speech or your health.
1. Hypothyroidism. Holtorf Medical Group. https://www.holtorfmed.com/thyroid-disorders/
2. Thyroid Nodules: A Growing Concern. Holtorf Medical Group. https://www.holtorfmed.com/thyroid-nodules-a-growing-concern/
3. Voice and endocrinology. K. V. S. Hari Kumar, Anurag Garg, N. S. Ajai Chandra, S. P. Singh, and Rakesh Datta. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5040035/
4. Thyroid Cancer Symptoms. Endocrine Web. https://www.endocrineweb.com/conditions/thyroid-cancer/thyroid-cancer-symptoms