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Speech Matters June 2011

Taking Care of Your Voice

Speech Matters

by Cheryl D. Lindsay M.S., S-LP

Have you ever felt like you had “a frog in your throat?” The belief behind this old story was that if you drank pond water, containing frog eggs, a frog would grow in your throat, obstructing your airway, and the result would be a “croaky” sounding voice.  A “croaky” sounding voice is not a normal voice.

In order to understand how to take care of your voice, it helps to understand, in simple terms, how your “normal” voice is produced.  As you breathe out, air flows over your vocal folds, (also called voice box or larynx), causing them to vibrate. The air then flows through the resonance chamber, (mouth, and sometimes nose) and then out. To “feel” your voice, put your hand on your throat and say /v/. Then try /f/ and you should not be able to feel the vibrations.

The size and shape of your mouth and the size and condition of your vocal folds, changes the way sounds are produced and gives each of us our unique sounding voice.  The larynx, located at the top of your windpipe, is made up of muscles covered in a mucous lining. If your larynx is damaged in any way, by a growth or disease, (pathology), then your voice will be affected.

There are professionals that help train your voice for singing, but that voice training is not usually in the scope of practice of a speech-language pathologist, (SLP).  An SLP can help to retrain your voice after vocal fold damage.

Normal changes in your voice occur throughout your life. The most notable changes in children occur between a very young age, (higher pitched), and early teen years, (lower pitched, especially in boys when they reach puberty). Your voice also changes with your emotions. There are further changes in older adults when their voice typically becomes weaker.

The other characteristics of voice besides loudness and pitch are nasality, i.e. the amount of air flowing through the nasal cavity, and quality, i.e. breathiness, hoarseness, strain, pitch breaks, tremors, or arrests.

The most common voice problem in children is vocal nodules, which form on the vocal folds as a result of vocal misuse or abuse. There may also be more serious problems such as vocal polyps, laryngeal cancer, contact ulcers, vocal fold paralysis, or infections, which can cause laryngitis.

Another common voice problem is linked to gastroesophageal reflux, (GERD), a burning sensation in the throat. It is caused by stomach acid backing up into the throat and damaging the vocal folds.

Other voice disorders can be related to psychological problems.

An Ear, Nose and Throat specialist, (ENT), can use endoscopy, which is a photo or video of your larynx, to identify the problem. Sometimes surgery is recommended.

An SLP can help you take care of your voice by recommending voice therapy and proper vocal hygiene.

The following tips will help you keep a healthy voice.

– Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.

– Get plenty of rest, including vocal rest.

– Practice good posture and relaxation exercises.

– Use a humidifier in dry winter months.

– Avoid caffeine, alcohol, certain lozenges, (peppermint and menthol), and smoking.

– Don’t strain your voice i.e. no loud talking, yelling, screaming or making loud, non-speech noises.

– Practice a softer voice, but not whispering, as it can dry your vocal folds.

– Avoid excessive throat clearing.

(Next Month: How Speech Language Pathologists can help individuals with autism)

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