Having a healthy voice will allow you to communicate. For many who rely on it to earn a living—singers, teachers, lawyers, etc.— having a good voice is paramount for success. As these individuals put more strain on their vocal cords, they are at higher risk for vocal fold paralysis and spasmodic dysphonia.
It is estimated that 7.5 million people in the US experience voice and other related communication disorders.
Understanding How the Voice Works
The vocal folds, a group of muscle tissue in the larynx, 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 (ear, nose, throat, and mouth) help determine the pitch, volume, and tone of your voice. When illness or disease affects your voice, it can change the volume, pitch, and quality of sound.
Symptoms of a voice disorder include a hoarse, raspy, or weak quality, decreased range in pitch, volume, and projection, coughing, sore throat, chronic throat clearing, vocal fatigue, shortness of breath, and voice loss. If these symptoms last longer than two weeks, seek the attention of an otolaryngologist who is the most appropriate medical professional for diagnosing voice problems.
Common Voice Problems
Treatment can improve the majority of voice problems. In addition to being easily curable in most cases, they rarely indicate a serious health problem.
One of the most common problems is the abuse of the vocal cord. Continued abuse can lead to permanent voice damage in addition to polyps, cysts, laryngitis, 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.
Keeping Your Voice Healthy
The key to good voice health is prevention. Make sure to use your voice correctly; 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. Additionally, consider improving your communication skills with speech and voice therapy.
Voice disorders caused by conditions such as acid reflux or upper respiratory infections can be treated with drugs, while surgery will likely be needed for vocal cord lesions.