Does your career require you to use your voice extensively? Teachers, clergy, attorneys, politicians, salespersons, public speakers, fitness instructors, and telemarketers are just a few examples of jobs which require a significant amount of time speaking throughout the day.
If your voice is one of the tools of your trade, you can think of yourself as an occupational voice user.
Occupational voice users are at special risk for developing hoarseness simply because the job requires heavy voice use, often with little time in between to allow the voice to recover. Not only do you use your voice to communicate with family and friends, but you also depend upon your voice for your livelihood.
Hoarseness can be a common occurrence for occupational voice users. You can develop muscle strain in and around the voice box (muscle tension dysphonia), or you may develop non-cancerous lesions on the vocal folds (vocal cords) from overuse of the voice.
When these changes occur in your voice, your quality of life is affected, and your livelihood may be threatened. Here are some typical comments from our patients who are occupational voice users:
Even if your voice recovers to normal after each episode of hoarseness, recurrent symptoms of hoarseness and vocal fatigue can lead to more permanent voice changes if not corrected.
If you are hoarse for more than three weeks, you should seek an evaluation. Early attention can help you keep your voice and safeguard your career.
Our team of voice specialists will evaluate your voice with special emphasis on:
See Appointments for more information regarding your initial evaluation.
Often occupational voice users will develop muscle strain in and around the voice box (muscle tension dysphonia). Other times, there will be noticeable changes to the structure of the vocal folds (vocal cords).
Occupational voice users sometimes develop benign, non-cancerous growths on the vocal folds, caused by inefficient voice use. These lesions (or “bumps”) on the vocal folds alter vocal fold vibration and lead to hoarseness.
The most common vocal fold lesions are nodules, polyps, and cysts. Vocal nodules (also known as nodes) can be thought of as “calluses” of the vocal folds. Vocal fold nodules, polyps, and cysts cause stiffening of the soft outer layer of the vocal folds, which affects vocal fold vibration and vocal fold closure.
Although treatment will depend on your diagnosis and your needs, voice therapy is the backbone of treatment for almost anyone with a voice disorder. This is especially true for occupational voice users, who depend on the quality and durability of the voice to earn an income.
With muscle tension dysphonia and with most benign lesions, voice therapy will be recommended. Even if surgery is needed to remove a lesion, voice therapy can help to maximize your speaking technique before surgery, so that you know how to avoid damaging your voice after surgery.
In voice therapy, a speech pathologist will help you learn healthy, efficient voice production. You will use your lung power to produce good breath flow for talking, along with an easy, relaxed throat, and forward “placement” of the voice for a healthy, resonant sound.
Using your breath well will help you relax the throat when speaking, and your voice can be produced with greater ease.
With practice, these techniques feel very natural and become part of your daily speaking patterns. Often, you immediately begin to feel much less effort when speaking and less fatigue with speaking all day, even before your voice quality changes.
Along with learning your best voice production, the voice therapist will help you balance your voice use at work and home, working with you to find times to rest your voice, so the voice can recover after heavy use.
Problem solving together, we will look for ways to spare your voice, whether it involves using voice amplification or delegating some speaking tasks to others. Finally, prevention of recurrence and maintenance of a healthy voice are emphasized with all voice therapy.
When vocal difficulties persist despite voice therapy and the treatment of other medical factors, surgery may be needed.
The goal of this surgical procedure is to delicately remove the abnormal portions of the soft outer layer of the vocal fold in order to restore the vocal fold to its normal vibratory state. Post-operative voice therapy is an essential component of vocal rehabilitation to maximize the quality and stamina of the voice.
People with high vocal demands should plan their day to incorporate brief periods of voice rest, and be careful not to overuse the voice outside of work. Even 15 minutes of quiet time two times during the work day can be very helpful in reducing vocal fatigue.
Strive for good vocal hygiene, which includes adequate hydration, managing allergies, controlling reflux, and avoiding smoking.
Teachers and other presenters can spare their voices by using a personal amplification system in the classroom (or conference room) or by having the classroom fitted with a room amplification system.
See Care Guides for more information about voice care for those with vocally demanding careers.
Call 919-684-3834 (local) or 800-385-3646 (toll-free) to make an appointment with a voice care specialist in the Triangle of North Carolina. We see patients from Durham, Raleigh, Cary, Chapel Hill, and beyond.