Save your voice

Voice strain can be a problem for teachers, fitness trainers, sales people, and others who use their voices a lot at work. Yelling over background noise and trying to talk in a deeper pitch can damage our vocal folds – also known commonly as “vocal cords.”

Photo credit: Dan Simpson on Flickr

Wendy Duke, a speech language pathologist and director of Columbia Speech & Language Services in Vancouver, recommends teachers prevent vocal damage by using amplifying devices and “good vocal hygiene” which includes:

* Not smoking
* Drinking enough water
* Not drinking too much alcohol
* Not driving your voice over background noise
* Minimizing or managing allergies and hay fever
* Ensuring the workplace is as quiet as possible, and free of mould and mildew
* Standing as close as possible (ideally arm’s length) from the person you are talking to
* Not yelling and cheering excessively (so look out soccer moms, hockey dads, and ultimate players!)

Wendy describes the vocal folds and how they work.

“They’re fleshy folds of muscle and their primary function is to sit within the larynx, at the top the trachea,” Wendy says. “They serve as a valve to direct food into the esophagus when you swallow. They also serve the function of phonation, which is what we call the sound that comes from the vibration of the vocal folds when air passes through them.”

Vocal folds get swollen when they are used incorrectly. Over time, the swelling can become permanent and turn into a vocal nodule – i.e., a calloused area. This problem can be treated using speech therapy to retrain the voice, but occasionally the nodules have to be removed surgically.

Early intervention

I do a lot more listening than talking in my job, but if I ever have this problem I will take Wendy’s advice to see my family doctor or a speech therapist ASAP.

“If you come in when you occasionally lose your voice, it’s so much easier to deal with it at that phase,” Wendy says. “Once they become vocal nodules, you’re doing all the same work plus you’re trying to reduce the nodules physically in size. It just takes way longer.”

Thanks to Wendy for sharing her advice, and stay tuned for our next conversation, regarding the process of re-learning to speak after a brain injury.


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