Keeping your voice healthy will ensure you are able to communicate properly, and for some people who rely on it to earn a living – singers, teachers and lawyers, for instance – good voice health is essential. These same individuals tend to put more strain on their vocal cords.
Even those whose professions don’t require constant speaking still suffer when experiencing voice-related health issues. It is estimated that 7.5 million people experience voice disorders.
Understanding How the Voice Works
The vocal folds, groups of muscle tissue in the larynx, are normally open to allow breathing. When you speak they close, while air from the lungs makes them vibrate. This produces sound. The size and shape of the vocal folds and surrounding cavities (throat, mouth and nose) help determine the pitch, volume and tone of your voice. This is what makes it unique. When illness or disease affects your voice, it can change the pitch, volume and quality of sound.
Symptoms of a voice disorder include a hoarse, raspy or weak voice; decreased range in pitch, volume and projection; vocal fatigue; shortness of breath; coughing; sore throat; chronic throat clearing; and voice loss. If these symptoms last longer than two weeks, seek the attention of a doctor. An otolaryngologist is the most qualified medical professional for diagnosing voice problems.
Common Voice Problems
The majority of voice disorders are related to conditions that can be treated. They rarely indicate a serious health problem, and are usually curable.
One of the most common voice problems is vocal cord abuse. This occurs when you use your voice improperly; shouting, whispering, and frequent throat clearing cause strain and fatigue of the vocal cords. Continued abuse can lead to permanent voice damage and a number of serious medical issues such as laryngitis, polyps, cysts and vocal fold swelling.
Other conditions that can affect the voice include upper respiratory infections, acid reflux, tobacco smoke, hormones, vocal nodules, neurological diseases, and tumors.
Keeping Your Voice Healthy
The key to good voice health is prevention. Make sure to use your voice properly; avoid straining the vocal folds through improper pitch and volume, and keep them moist by drinking lots of water, especially when speaking. Limit your caffeine and alcohol intake, as these can dry out the throat. A humidifier is a great way to prevent dry air. If you are experiencing vocal strain, it’s crucial to rest your voice in order to avoid permanent damage.
Voice disorders caused by conditions such as acid reflux or upper respiratory infections can be treated with drugs, while surgery will likely be needed for vocal cord lesions.
Voice therapy is a noninvasive approach to changing the way you use your voice. You will work with a speech-language pathologist to both strengthen your voice and learn proper voice hygiene in order to prevent additional vocal abuse.
Therapy typically lasts for several weeks and involves both in-office and at-home activities designed to help you improve your voice. You will receive counseling on lifestyle changes that may help you strengthen your voice.
Part of your voice therapy is learning proper voice hygiene.
- Drink plenty of water (48 oz/day)
- Speak slowly and pause naturally to reduce strain
- Speak softly in a natural pitch
- Limit vocal loudness
- Breathe from your abdomen rather than your chest/shoulders
- Balance extra vocal demands with voice rest
- Reduce background noise, face the person you are speaking to and get closer to the listener
- Learn to recognize the signs of vocal fatigue
- Clear your throat or cough habitually
- Yell, cheer or scream habitually
- Excessively drink alcohol or caffeine
- Talk in noisy situations, e.g. concerts, football games, bars/restaurants
- Talk in a prolonged, unnatural voice, e.g. whisper
- Consume menthol, peppermint and cinnamon when experiencing a sore throat
Call Ear, Nose & Throat Consultants at (605) 217-4320 for more information or to schedule an appointment.