CINCINNATI—People who rely on their voice for a living, such as singers, actors and media personalities, know the importance of keeping it healthy.
But for most people, voice health is not something they think about until they have a problem, says Sid Khosla, MD, an otolaryngologist at the University of Cincinnati.
Khosla says one of the most common problems people have with their voice is hoarseness and voice loss (laryngitis), which can be caused by a variety of issues, including infection and misuse and overuse through excessively loud or prolonged talking.
Other medical conditions that can lead to voice problems include laryngopharyngeal reflux disease (reflux of stomach juice into the throat), benign vocal cord lesions (“bumps” on the vocal cords), vocal cord hemorrhage (ruptured blood vessels on the surface of the vocal cord) and laryngeal cancer.
“A variety of things could cause voice loss or hoarseness,” says Khosla. “That’s why it’s important for people to see an otolaryngologist if they have problems for three weeks or more.”
Over 7 million Americans have a voice disorder that can affect both their social and their professional life, Khosla says.
“I’ve had patients who became depressed because they couldn’t be heard in a noisy room, or don’t call people because they can’t be heard. If you experience a voice problem, there are treatments available But remember that there are easy, preventive steps you can take to keep your voice healthy.”
Khosla, who specializes in laryngology and voice disorders, recommends the following to keep your voice healthy:
· Drink plenty of water. Hydration helps to keep thin secretions flowing to lubricate your vocal cords. Some medications—like decongestants and antihistamines, antidepressants and diuretics—can cause dryness in the vocal cords, so drink even more fluid when taking them.
· Don’t abuse your voice by screaming or yelling. Use a microphone when giving a speech or presentation to lessen the strain on your voice.
· Before heavy use, such as teaching a class or giving a speech, warm up your voice. Gently go from low to high tones on different vowel sounds.
· Don’t smoke. Smoking can increase your risk for laryngeal cancer and cause inflammation and polyps on the vocal cords that can make the voice hoarse and weak.
· Use good breath support when making a speech or presentation. Fill your lungs before starting to talk and don’t wait until you are almost out of air before taking another breath.
· Allow your voice to rest if it becomes hoarse. This allows the vocal cords to recover—pushing it can lead to significant problems. See an otolaryngologist if your voice is hoarse for three weeks or more.
Otolaryngologists and other voice disorder specialists are celebrating the fourth annual World Voice Day on April 16 to recognize the importance of the voice and the need for preventive care.