The news media has recently highlighted the vocal injuries of a number of celebrities. These are the elite “professional voice users” whose livelihoods depend upon their ability to sing or speak. But, anyone whose vocation depends upon the use of the voice use can be categorized as a professional voice user. From school teachers to aerobics instructors to trial lawyers, there are many people could not practice their chosen vocations without their voices.
The lifetime prevalence for voice disorders is 30 percent, and, according to conservative estimates, approximately 28 million workers in America experience daily voice problems. Yet such problems are often ignored and under diagnosed. Many people continue to ‘talk through it’ which then causes the problem to worsen, sometimes irreversibly. It’s similar to walking on an injured ankle without a physician’s diagnosis or proper support. The ankle will only get worse. Continuing to use the voice when it is fatigued or injured will only cause more damage.
If you are experiencing voice problems, when should you see a physician? Any hoarseness or change in your vocal quality that lasts for more than two weeks and cannot be explained by a cold or flu, should be investigated by a physician who is a voice specialist – a laryngologist. Depending on the diagnosis, the laryngologist may prescribe medication or suggest a course of voice therapy with a Speech-Language Pathologist who specializes in voice problems.
Voice therapy is like physical therapy, but for your voice! In severe cases of vocal damage or diagnoses that do not heal with therapy, surgery may be necessary. This is why it’s important to see a laryngologist sooner rather than later.
You can keep your voice healthy by practicing good vocal hygiene! The vocal hygiene recommendations listed below will help you to keep your voice healthy and free from injury.
- Hydrate! Do drink plenty of water each day. Water is the best thing you can drink for your voice.
- Do warm up your voice before you lecture/teach, sing or do work that requires moderate or extreme voice usage.
- Don't speak in a low monotone or allow pitch vocal energy to drop so low that the sound becomes gravelly (vocal fry).
- Do use good abdominal breath support.
- Don’t talk excessively loud or yell for long periods of time. This can cause vocal cord swelling and damage.
- Don’t smoke--anything. Smoking is an irritant to the voice and has been linked to throat cancer.
- Avoid excessive or habitual throat clearing and coughing. These behaviors can also cause vocal cord swelling and irritation.
- Treat and control medical conditions such allergies, sinusitis, post nasal drip and acid reflux disease. These conditions often cause hoarseness and vocal fatigue which are signs that the voice may be in trouble.
- Avoid speaking for extended periods in noisy environments.
- Recognize the signs of vocal fatigue – hoarseness, dry throat, throat tension and poor projection. Do not continue use your voice under these conditions or if it feels strained or sore. Instead, rest your voice.
- Use non-mentholated glycerin based lozenges to moisten and sooth your throat.
These are just several tips to keep you talking, singing, laughing and sounding--like you!
Questions regarding voice care and voice therapy can be addressed to Dr. Karen Kochis-Jennings at the CSUN Language, Speech and Hearing Center’s Specialty Voice Clinic.
Karen Kochis-Jennings, Ph.D., CCC-SLP
Department of Communication Disorders and Sciences