Not long ago I lost my voice. I put up with it for a few days, went to work, but couldn’t really talk to anyone or answer the phone; the more I talked the more strained my voice felt. It didn’t get any better, and when I went to a networking session and found I did so much damage even by whispering (not ideal when networking!) that I went along to my local GP. She said it was viral laryngitis and asked what my job was. I told her I was a trainer, she immediately said the best thing to do was to not talk for two days, and suggested I stay off work.
Luckily, I didn’t have any training courses, but I did have a meeting with a customer to do some feedback sessions with two managers as a follow-up to some training I had delivered, so I had to re-schedule those. My family thought it was great - very peaceful they said!
But it did get me thinking about how important your voice is: and how stressful it would be to have continuing voice problems. So I did some research (thank you St. Google) and found that there are lots of people that specifically rely on their voices for work, it is a crucial tool to allowing them to work, without it they can’t do their job of work and what they have been trained to do. To say nothing of anyone and everyone who needs to talk!
The range of people who could be at risk from occupational voice loss is wide and diverse:
- Teachers, trainers, lecturers, childcare workers
- Salespersons – retail-staff, sales staff, demonstrators, auctioneers, counter staff
- Barristers, preachers, politicians(?)- maybe a godsend if they do lose their voices!
- Drill sergeants and other NCOs
- Journalists, radio and television reporters
- Entertainers - singers, actors, performers, bingo callers, line dance callers
- Call centre staff
- Receptionists, advice line workers, counsellors, interviewers
- Aerobics, fitness instructors, swimming teachers, coaches
Loss of voice can of course be a symptom of some underlying condition, but what I want to highlight here is what can cause voice loss and give you some easy to follow tips to stop this from becoming a problem.
By the way it has been happening for centuries ... as this quote proves, “My voice stuck in my throat. [Lat., Vox faucibus haesit.]” Virgil or Vergil Source: The Aeneid (II, 774)
What is loss of voice?
Laryngitis (hoarseness) is caused by a variety of processes all causing swelling and scarring of the vocal cords. If anything causes the surface to become thickened or swollen the vocal cords cannot vibrate equally or rapidly. The sound generated is thus irregular. This makes the voice hoarse causing “laryngitis.” What causes these surface changes can vary tremendously. The most common cause of loss of voice is inflammation of the larynx.
Inflammation of the larynx results from infection or voice strain. Misuse of the voice can cause the vocal folds to swell and become unable to vibrate as needed for speech.
Misusing your voice
Voice loss and hoarseness related to voice misuse is most common among people who are required to speak or sing a lot for their profession. Individuals who develop voice loss or hoarseness from loud speaking, over speaking, or misusing their voice may need to have speech therapy to learn how to use their voice properly. If it is noisy you will shout to compensate and be heard, but you may be straining your vocal cords. Misusing your voice can lead to serious conditions like vocal cord cysts or vocal cord haemorrhage.
Lost voice or hoarseness caused by acid reflux:
Acid reflux can cause hoarseness and voice loss. When you lay down to sleep at night, and the acid from your stomach spills into your oesophagus, it can affect the vocal cords. The best remedy for voice loss or hoarseness related to Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is to treat your acid reflux. This may mean making certain lifestyle changes, such as not eating before bedtime, talk to your doctor about prescription antacid medications.
It is important to find the underlying cause of voice loss or hoarseness. Seek an ENT evaluation if you are concerned.
Other causes may be:
- Chronic voice strain.
- Chronic sinusitis.
- Yeast infections – like thrush are caused by using asthma inhalers, or a weakened immune system.
- Stress or stressful situations can impact on your voice (the limp in the throat sensation)
- Smoking and alcohol.
- Exposure to chemical fumes.
Listen to your voice
Early signs of a problem might not seem too worrying or unusual - discomfort speaking, a lower pitch to the voice, breaking voice, a loss of vocal range, a tickling in the throat, or an urge to cough or clear the throat, or a voice that becomes harsh, raspy, shrill or thin. This will normally sort itself after a break - a night's sleep or a weekend off. But if the symptoms persist, this could be the early signs of a long-term and potentially irreversible problem. The onset may be gradual, so it is important to be vigilant for signs the symptoms are becoming more frequent or more troublesome.
How can you avoid voice problems?
There are many things you can do to help prevent voice problems developing:
- REST: if you have a throat infection or laryngitis rest your voice and don't speak more than you have to. A day off work when an infection is acute may well save a week off later on when the laryngitis has become chronic, especially if you have a vocally demanding job.
- STEAM: Steam inhalations are very soothing for voices, especially when you have laryngitis or have strained your voice. Your nose and chest like steam too, so coughs, blocked noses and inflamed sinuses respond as well. Steam reduces swelling and vocal irritation very effectively. You do not need to add anything in the water and if you do not wish to sit with a towel over your head over a bowl of steaming water a steamy bath, shower or the steam room at the local gym will work just as well.
- WATER: Drink plenty of water. The thin mucus that lubricates your vocal folds (and your nose, throat and chest) depends on the water content of the body. Without plenty of water it becomes thick and sticky.
- GOOD POSTURE: Efficient voice production is helped by keeping good posture, especially when using the telephone or working on key boards for long periods. Poor posture can distort your neck/back alignment affecting the resonating spaces in the throat and the control of the laryngeal muscles. It can also affect your breathing patterns reducing breath control and putting strain on the voice.
These are just four. There is a great website listed below and the references can give much more advice on how to protect your voice and keep it healthy.
How can you take care of your voice?
- Resting your voice by whispering or not talking
- Drinking plenty of fluids and resting in order to get over acute infections, such as a cold
- Chewing a non-mint based gum often (particularly bicarbonate of soda ones) may help by generating saliva and relaxing the muscles around the throat through the repetitious movement. It may also help with reflux (flow of stomach acid/contents) into the larynx
- Steaming (breath over a bowl of steaming water)
- Posture – bad posture impacts on how you breath and use your voice
- Getting evaluated to determine if you have a yeast infection (thrush); particularly important for those who have a weakened immune system or use corticosteroid inhalers for asthma
- Getting treatment for acid reflux
- Learning proper techniques of breathing, speaking, and singing
- Avoiding smoking and drinking
- Trying to reduce the amount of irritants, such as occupational dust or chemical fumes, you come in contact with.
Your voice is something you probably take for granted - I know I did. I now realise that as I have asthma, a bad posture (slouch!) and Acid Reflux, my poor voice has a real struggle, so I will now take better care of it.
“The human voice is the organ of the soul.” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) Poet.
“There is no index of character so sure as the voice.” Benjamin Disraeli
About the author
Jane Brann is a trainer who specialises in Health and Safety at Work and Interpersonal Skills. She has over 15 years experience as a work based and management skills trainer and delivers many modules of training focusing on skills needed in the workplace. These modules of training aim to give the recipients tools to make their lives less stressful and they are just as relevant at work as in the real world.
Health and Safety and Interpersonal Skills training.
For Simple Training Solutions at Sensible Prices.
References and further reading:
I met someone at the networking event I mentioned at the beginning of this article, she recommended steaming... and a great website. Reading the information here led me to write this article:
Thank you to Rosemarie Morgan-Watson for her invaluable advice. For more information her website www.metame.co.uk and her email address firstname.lastname@example.org
British Voice Association, Institute of Laryngology and Otology, 330 Gray's Inn Road, London WC1X 8EE. Expert body on voice loss and has a national network of NHS voice clinics. Tel:020 7713 0064 - www.british-voice-association.com
And thank you to the following websites for all their information:
The website here concentrates on work-based voice issues: www.hazards.org/voiceloss
Voice Care Network UK, 29 Southbank Road, Kenilworth CV8 1LA. Publishes newsletters and runs voice care clinics. It publishes a newsletter, VoiceMatters. A booklet, More Care for Your Voice, is available from the Voice Care Network, tel: 01926 864000 or 01926 852933, price £4. - www.voicecare.org.uk
The Lary Project is an organisation supporting and representing people with voice (larynx) problems. They believe those with voice disorders should enjoy much better levels of recognition, understanding and support. www.lary.org.uk
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