Most of us rely on our voices to communicate with one another. Your voice is as unique as your fingerprint. Many people have jobs where their voices are essential “tools of the trade”, for example; teachers, actors, singers, sales people, lawyers etc. Unfortunately, many of these people can also experience voice problems.
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How do I know if I have a voice problem?
A voice problem can present in different ways, including the following:
- Ongoing or recurring hoarseness that is not associated with a cold or a throat infection.
- A change in the pitch or quality of the voice that has been present for more than 10 days.
- Consistent pain or the feeling of a lump in the throat.
- A weak voice. A voice that feels tired after speaking for a prolonged period or straining to talk.
- Loss of voice.
What do I do if a voice problem is suspected?
Make an appointment with your GP to discuss referral to an Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) Consultant. The ENT Consultant may refer you to a Speech and Language Therapist for voice therapy.
What is voice therapy?
Voice therapy is carried out by a Speech & Language Therapist (SLT) after a referral has been made by an ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat) Consultant. The SLT will firstly discuss the history of your voice problem and will explore possible causes. Therapy may be provided in groups or on an individual basis and may include the following:
· Information about how the voice mechanism works.
· Information about how to look after your voice.
· Identification of behaviours that may be damaging your voice (e.g. shouting or throat clearing) and suggestions about how to reduce/eliminate these behaviours.
· Breathing and relaxation exercises.
· Vocal exercises (e.g. exercises to warm up your voice).
What causes voice problems?
The following factors may cause/contribute to voice problems:
· Using your voice in a way that may damage it.
· Dehydration and irritation of the throat. This can be caused by smoking and/or inhaling dust and chemicals. Dry air caused by air conditioning or central heating may also be a contributory factor.
· Stress and excessive tension.
· Any problems with the structure of your voice box.
· Poor posture and breathing patterns.
Does smoking affect the voice?
Smoking is a significant causal factor in voice problems. It can cause swelling and dehydration of the throat and smokers’ cough may damage the vocal cords. In some cases, smoking can lead to cancer.
Read more information on giving up smoking.
Does heartburn/reflux affect the voice?
Acid coming up from the stomach can irritate the throat and this in turn may affect your voice.
Is drinking water good for my voice?
Dehydration may contribute to voice problems. Water hydrates all the cells of the body, including those in the throat.
What affect do lozenges/throat sprays have on my throat?
While they can be soothing, chemicals found in throat lozenges/throat sprays may in fact dehydrate the throat.
Would using a radio microphone in the classroom be helpful?
The use of an amplification device such as a radio microphone may reduce the need to strain your voice by talking loudly/shouting in the classroom.
Advisory Note: This information is intended for prevention and health promotion. It is not a substitute for a medical consultation or examination if you have/ suspect you have a voice problem.