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. Hoarseness affects approximately 20 million people in the U.S. at any given time, and about one in three individuals will become hoarse at some point in their life.
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 flows past them and 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. Individuals with hoarseness have impaired communication with their family and peers, which may result in depression, social isolation, missed work, lost wages or reduced quality of life. If these symptoms last longer than two to four weeks, seek the attention of a doctor. Better yet, a laryngologist (ENT voice subspecialist) is the most qualified medical professional for diagnosing and appropriately treating voice problems to prevent further damage to your voice down the line.
Common Voice Problems
The majority of voice disorders are related to conditions that can be treated. They infrequently 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 chronic laryngitis, polyps, cysts and vocal fold swelling. An ENT or laryngologist can help identify underlying medical conditions such as upper respiratory infections, acid reflux, tobacco smoke, hormones, vocal nodules, neurological diseases, and tumors, and make a treatment plan for improving your voice and communication.
Keeping Your Voice Healthy
The key to good voice health is prevention. Here are some tips on keeping your voice healthy:
- Quit the tobacco and smokeless products (this includes smoking, chewing, e-cigarettes & vaping)
- Avoid dehydrating drinks – alcohol and caffeinated drinks (soft drinks, coffee, non-herbal tea)
- Drink plenty of water – especially in dry climates and in winter
- Humidify your home – ideal is around 50 percent humidity
- Watch your diet – avoid spicy and heavy, fried foods
- Avoid excessive throat clearing or coughing – drinking water instead will help
- Try not to use your voice too long or too loudly – especially if it feels strained or sounds hoarse
- Use a microphone if possible in situations where you need to talk louder than normal speech
- Avoid drying medications such as some antihistamines (allergy pills) and diuretics (water pills)
- Seek professional help if your voice is injured or hoarse – an ENT or laryngologist are best