World Voice Day

World Voice Day is celebrated each year on 16th April. This day helps to raise awareness of the importance of the voice for communication. It is also an opportunity to share developments regarding care and treatment of voice disorders.

The outbreak of coronavirus COVID-19 may be overwhelming and cause fear and anxiety. A lot of us may feel more stressed, worried, sad and frustrated. A prolonged period of emotional stress can make us prone to developing a voice disorder. It is the voice that is often called your body’s emotional barometer which responds to higher levels of stress and anxiety. Here are some tips on how to look after your voice.

Your voice is an amazing instrument. Did you know that human vocal folds vibrate more than 100 times per second when we speak or sing? This is at least three times faster than a humming bird beats its wings in flight. For some singers vocal fold vibration can be up to 800 times per second!

Many of us will be familiar with the term voice box. However, it is far from a box! It is actually a very hard working organ. The vocal folds are a pair of delicate bands of tissue that stretch across the top of the windpipe. You can find where the voice box is by placing your fingers on the area of the throat we call Adam’s apple. If you say ‘ah’, you will feel the vibrations.

Vocal Folds web small

Sometimes things go wrong when we try and talk. Voice can become croaky, hoarse and husky. Voice can alter its pitch (high and low sounds). Pitch can become unstable. When talking the voice may ‘break’ or there may be silent gaps when no voice is made at all. Speaking may feel effortful and your voice may tire very quickly. If you are a singer or a performer, your range will be reduced. Sometimes we can lose our voice completely. For instance, when we have laryngitis. Sometimes the muscles around the larynx become so tense that we cannot make the vocal folds vibrate. This is called muscle tension dysphonia and it is often experienced in times of higher emotional stress. If you are a professional voice user, i.e. a teacher, a singer, a nurse, carer, fitness instructor, call centre worker or anyone who relies on their voice to do their job – you should start complete voice rest. Laryngitis will make you prone to further vocal fold injury, so do not risk it. Rest that voice! Try not to whisper or cough. Avoid smoking, vaping and drinking alcohol. Drink water regularly and inhale steam. If you suffer from reflux, try and eliminate fizzy drinks, fast food, do not exercise after you have had a meal,   avoid eating late at night (see more on www.britishvoiceassociation.org.uk).

The best way to look after you voice is to prevent voice problems. If you are a professional voice user, warming up your voice will need to be an everyday routine. You can warm up your voice using simple vocal exercises. This will increase the blood flow to your vocal folds and reduce the risk of vocal injury. After using your voice, you will need to cool down – just like you do when you exercise your body. Smoking irritates the vocal tract and can make your larynx inflamed and swollen. Sometimes the changes caused by smoking are not reversible. Smoking can lead sinister conditions in the larynx.

Also, the voice is closely linked with emotion, so tension or low mood are likely to show in your voice. Try to improve your everyday mental health by taking regular exercise, eating a healthy diet and using meditation or mindfulness techniques. Seek professional help if needed.  

Be mindful of vocal over-use. Think about extensive voice use as running or sprinting. If you overdo these activities, they can result in muscle injury. The same applies to your voice. The vocal folds collide hundreds of thousands times a day. If you use your voice for several hours a day and you frequently project it across, for example, a noisy classroom or an office, club or a bar, you are at risk of injuring your voice. Make sure you take regular vocal breaks (rest periods) and try to avoid shouting. If you want to project your voice sustainably, consult your speech therapist. One of the roles of a Speech and Language Therapist is to work in collaboration with ENT specialists. SLTs are trained to provide voice therapy and help rehabilitate injured voices.

If you experience a change in your voice that does not resolve after two weeks, see your GP and ask to be referred to an ENT specialist.

Your voice is a valuable resource. Look after it.

Barbara Knowles
Speech and Language Therapist
St. Mary’s Hospital, Newport

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