Keep your voice strong for life
You are probably familiar with the term "overuse injury" referring to runners and athletes. But did you know that people who use their voice all day can suffer an "overuse" injury of the voice? Speech therapists see people every day who are having trouble with their voices, including teachers, call center staff, doctors and nurses, singers, preachers, coaches and just plain talkative individuals.
Hoarseness or vocal changes lasting more than 2 to 3 weeks, especially if you are not ill.
- Feelings of excessive voice fatigue or throat discomfort with the talking that is required during your day.
What's the first step?
- See an ENT specialist, preferably one with a specialty in the voice. The ENT will examine your larynx to find out whether there are lesions on the vocal cords or is there simply excessive tension or vocal fold edema. The ENT can refer you to a speech therapist.
What can I do to prevent or heal a voice problem?
- Don't smoke or stop smoking.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Use a normal conversational loudness - not a loud voice - as much as possible.
- Eliminate shouting, yelling, screaming and limit coughing and throat clearing.
- Rest your voice if you are feeling vocal fatigue or if you have an upper respiratory illness.
- Find time to be quiet.
- Do not whisper to protect your voice.
- Use an amplifier if you have to speak out to groups.
- Watch out for speaking in noisy situations, you will be putting a lot of stress on your voice.Your voice should be a relaxed "hummy" voice that is projected from the front of your face, not your neck.
- If singing, do not push your voice for excessive loudness or pitches that result in straining.
- Your voice comes out on breath, pause to get breath when speaking.
- Do body checks to make sure you are not over tensing your jaw, neck or shoulders, and use good posture.
- Work to keep yourself as healthy as possible in order to reduce upper respiratory infections, wash your hands, get rest, manage stress.
What does a speech therapist do in voice therapy?
- Target what contributing factors are present to cause your voice problem and help identify strategies to manage those.
- Teach exercises to improve relaxed breathing to support the voice.
- Teach exercises to facilitate optimum relaxed vocal cord movement including vocal cord stretches and vocal function exercises.
- Train relaxed resonant voice use, which can help the voice last through the day.
Speech therapists who work with the voice can also help individuals who suffer from a condition called “Vocal Cord Dysfunction” or “Irritable Larynx Syndrome.” These conditions often do not present with a voice disturbance, but are marked by the following symptoms: chronic coughing, chronic throat clearing sensation of shortness of breath, air hunger or abrupt breathing difficulty or tightness in the throat or lump in the throat sensation.
Your voice is a precious instrument, and injury to the voice can negatively affect work performance and your social interactions. Take good care of your voice and it will last a life time!
About The Author
Mary Daddio, MA-CCC, Speech Language Pathologist is a graduate of University of Colorado with a Masters Degree in communication disorders and member of the American Speech, Language and Hearing Association. Mary practices at Sentara Leigh Therapy Center and enjoys an interest in working with the voice, as well as providing therapy for swallowing disorders, communication disorders related to stroke and brain injury and Parkinson’s disease.