Every year on April 16, otolaryngologist–head and neck surgeons — commonly called ENT doctors — and other voice health professionals worldwide join together to recognize World Voice Day.
World Voice Day, which was established 11 years ago, encourages men and women, young and old, to assess their vocal health and take action to improve or maintain good voice habits.
The long-term consequences of poor voice care can range from strained vocal cords and chronic hoarseness to deadly head and neck cancers.
The voice specialists of our Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery Division provide a range of services aimed at vocal health and wellness.
Voice problems usually are associated with hoarseness (also known as roughness), instability, or problems with voice endurance.
Hoarseness or roughness in your voice is often caused by a medical problem.
When hoarse, the voice may sound breathy, raspy, strained, or show changes in volume or pitch (depending on how high or low the voice is). Voice changes are related to disorders in the sound-producing parts (vocal folds) of the voice box (larynx).
While breathing, the vocal folds remain apart. When speaking or singing, they come together and, as air leaves the lungs, they vibrate, producing sound. Swelling or lumps on the vocal folds hinder vibration, altering voice quality, volume, and pitch.
Voice problems arise from a variety of sources including voice overuse or misuse, cancer, infection, or injury.
When is it time to see a doctor about a voice problem?
Voice specialist Elliot Regenbogen, MD, a member of the faculty of our Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery Division, says, "It is time to get evaluated by an otolaryngologist when you have or suspect a voice problem and there are any of the following conditions:
- If hoarseness lasts longer than two weeks, especially if you smoke;
- If you do not have a cold or flu;
- If you are coughing up blood;
- If you have difficulty swallowing;
- If you feel a lump in the neck;
- If you observe loss or severe changes in voice lasting longer than a few days;
- If you experience pain when speaking or swallowing;
- If difficulty breathing accompanies your voice change;
- If your hoarseness interferes with your livelihood;
- If you are a vocal performer and unable to perform.
"Many people don’t understand the signs and symptoms of voice disorders and often put off treatment, which can cause irreparable damage to their voice quality."
Drink water (stay well hydrated): Keeping your body well hydrated by drinking plenty of water each day (6-8 glasses) is essential to maintaining a healthy voice. The vocal cords vibrate extremely fast even with the most simple sound production; remaining hydrated through water consumption optimizes the throat's mucous production, aiding vocal cord lubrication. To maintain sufficient hydration avoid or moderate substances that cause dehydration. These include alcohol and caffeinated beverages (coffee, tea, soda). And always increase hydration when exercising.
Do not smoke: It is well known that smoking leads to lung or throat cancer. Primary and secondhand smoke that is breathed in passes by the vocal cords causing significant irritation and swelling of the vocal cords. This will permanently change voice quality, nature, and capabilities.
Do not abuse or misuse your voice: Your voice is not indestructible. In every day communication, be sure to avoid habitual yelling, screaming, or cheering. Try not to talk loudly in locations with significant background noise or noisy environments. Be aware of your background noise — when it becomes noisy, significant increases in voice volume occur naturally, causing harm to your voice. If you feel like your throat is dry, tired, or your voice is becoming hoarse, stop talking.
To reduce or minimize voice abuse or misuse use non-vocal or visual cues to attract attention, especially with children. Obtain a vocal amplification system if you routinely need to use a "loud" voice especially in an outdoor setting. Try not to speak in an unnatural pitch. Adopting an extremely low pitch or high pitch can cause an injury to the vocal cords with subsequent hoarseness and a variety of problems.
Minimize throat clearing: Clearing your throat can be compared to slapping or slamming the vocal cords together. Consequently, excessive throat clearing can cause vocal cord injury and subsequent hoarseness. An alternative to voice clearing is taking a small sip of water or simply swallowing to clear the secretions from the throat and alleviate the need for throat clearing or coughing.
The most common reason for excessive throat clearing is an unrecognized medical condition causing one to clear their throat too much. Common causes of chronic throat clearing include gastroesophageal reflux (GERD), laryngopharyngeal reflux disease, sinus, and/or allergic disease.
Moderate voice use when sick: Reduce your vocal demands as much as possible when your voice is hoarse due to excessive use or an upper respiratory infection (cold). Singers should exhibit extra caution if one's speaking voice is hoarse because permanent and serious injury to the vocal cords are more likely when the vocal cords are swollen or irritated. It is important to "listen to what your voice is telling you."
Your voice is an extremely valuable resource and is the most commonly used form of communication. Our voices are invaluable for both our social interaction as well as for most people's occupation. Proper care and use of your voice will give you the best chance for having a healthy voice for your entire lifetime.
Voice health information here is provided by the American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery. For consultations/appointments with our voice specialists, please call 631-444-4121.