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Avoid over use and misuse of your voice

Kayla Fleming, M.S.

For most people our voice and how it sounds is a key part of how we communicate with others and even how we are recognized. Our voice provides an immediate impression of us to our listeners. Each day we use our voice in a variety of ways and for many different reasons. For some, a healthy voice is necessary for their career (singers, teachers, speakers, etc.); for others our voices are a means of normal everyday communication.

Surprisingly, the American Speech Language Hearing Association estimates that approximately 28 million individuals experience daily voice problems and/or disorders. Voice disorders are described as the “abnormal production and/or absence of vocal quality, pitch, loudness, resonance and/or duration, depending on a person’s age and/or sex.” For instance, if at the end of a normal day your voice is “scratchy, sore or tired,” your symptoms could indicate a voice disorder. If not treated properly, these symptoms could become more permanent conditions that adversely impact lifestyle, job performance and even work attendance. 

There are many factors that can contribute to a voice disorder, but the primary cause is vocal overuse.  Similar to other muscles and tissues in the body, vocal cords can be over used and injured therefore requiring time to recover following strenuous use. Strenuous use includes activities such as speaking for long periods of time, yelling, cheering and singing loudly. Not giving your voice a chance to recover after these activities can cause vocal cord injury, vocal cord pathologies and changes in your voice, which ultimately can make verbal communication more difficult. 

Practicing good vocal health can help prevent damage to your voice. Below are some guidelines for good vocal health: 

• Stay hydrated to keep the vocal cords moist – this is especially important in the dry Arizona climate
• Use a quiet, relaxed voice
• See your physician to control allergy and sinus conditions, colds and reflux

• Smoke
• Yell, sing or talk excessively
• Repeatedly clear your throat
• Dehydrate your vocal cords with medications or coffee
• Talk over noise

It is important to see a speech-language pathologist (SLP) if you notice changes in your voice such as hoarseness, breathiness, pitch breaks or tension. Through education and training including breathing and talking techniques, SLPs are able to help many individuals reduce the stress placed on their vocal cords, which allows them to heal. In many cases, surgery for certain conditions can be avoided through speech therapy.

Kayla Fleming, M.S., is a speech language pathologist intern at Flagstaff Medical Center’s Therapy Services department.