Keeping your voice healthy will ensure you can 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. An estimated 7.5 million people experience voice disorders.
Understanding How the Voice Works
The vocal cords, a pair of muscular folds, 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 your voice’s pitch, volume and tone, this is what makes it unique. When illness or disease affects your voice, it can change the pitch, volume and sound quality.
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 misuse your voice, shouting, whispering and frequent throat clearing cause strain and fatigue of the vocal cords. Continued abuse can lead to permanent voice damage or several 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.
A hoarse voice can have several causes. A detailed history will be taken to determine the cause.
Questions you may be asked:
- How long has your voice been bad?
- Does it get better or worse throughout the day?
- Do you have a cough?
- Does it hurt to swallow or talk?
- Do you talk a lot, yell or sing?
- Do you have allergies?
- Do you have heartburn?
- Do you smoke?
- Is your voice raspy or give out mid-sentence?
Your doctor may look at your voice box with a scope to see it in action. This is a procedure that is done in the office.
Findings could be:
- Inflammation from nasal drainage or heartburn.
- Vocal cord nodules- calluses on the vocal cord.
- A weak vocal cord.
- Spasm of the vocal muscles.
- Vocal cord polyps.
- Swelling from smoking.
Depending on the findings, treatments vary. Usually a hoarse or scratchy voice is more of an annoyance, but it could be symptoms of a bigger issue. So it is best to have it fully evaluated if it continues.
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 to avoid permanent damage.
Voice disorders caused by acid reflux or upper respiratory infections can be treated with drugs, while you will likely need surgery for vocal cord lesions.
Call Midwest ENT Centre at (636) 441-3100 for more information or to schedule an appointment.