A look inside the larynx

As the doctor explained to me yesterday how my vocal cords were inflamed because of the constant postnasal drip (which could be due to either a virus or allergies, he couldn’t say which was more likely), I had a mental picture of my larynx with two thick white cords covered in mucus. Something like this, but with more realistic flesh color and oozy mucus.

Then I remembered the pictures we had been shown in a class in Voice and Diction that I took in college. At the time, I was amazed that it was possible to take pictures of the larynx – in color, no less! Somewhat to my disappointment, there were no “cords” as I had always imagined them. (Our professor told us it is more accurate to call them vocal folds – but if even my doctor calls them vocal cords, I guess the change is unlikely to catch on.)

Some of the pictures showed a larynx that was inflamed, and I tried to imagine my larynx looking that way, as it no doubt had on a number of occasions when I had laryngitis. Our professor emphasized how important it was to take good care of our vocal cords, by not straining them (e.g. from too much yelling at sports events) and not smoking. I’ve never smoked, and I’m not the sort who tends to yell, at sporting events or anywhere else. But I probably don’t rest my voice enough when I get laryngitis, which is at least once a year.

I decided to look on the Web to see if I could find pictures of the larynx like those I had seen in that class over thirty years ago. There are lots available, including videos. This one shows a healthy larynx, and you even get to watch the tiny camera snaked through the person’s nose and down her throat (a procedure I had to have done before my sleep study, to see if the opening in my throat was small enough that apnea was a reasonable diagnosis). You’ll have to wait until about the one-minute mark to see the larynx clearly.

Here is a (much shorter) video (scroll down to Example 5) showing someone with laryngitis caused by a virus. (You’ll have to have QuickTime installed in order to watch it.) I’m guessing that’s about how my larynx looks right now. And according to the doctor, it will probably keep looking – and sounding – that way until I give it enough rest so it can get better. (The laryngitis often lasts quite a while after the virus itself is gone, probably because once people feel better they want to talk again.)

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