Whether it’s on the job, taking care of a busy family or gabbing with your mom on the phone – we use our voices all the time. Most of us don’t even think too much about our voices until we lose them temporarily because of illness.
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Your voice plays a vital role in your everyday life, but it’s easy to take it for granted, says ear, nose and throat specialist Michael Benninger, MD.
We often lose our voice after a bad cold that develops into laryngitis, which can be accompanied by severe coughing and hoarseness. Most of the time, our voice recovers after a few days. But every once in a while, the hoarseness doesn’t go away – leading to a low-pitched and raspy sounding voice and ultimately damaging our vocal cords. Often times rest can solve this issue, but because our lives must go on (conference calls, soccer games and happy hours in loud bars) the hoarse voice can persist.
Temporary hoarseness occurs in almost everyone, and almost 20% of the U.S. population has some degree of chronic voice dysfunction. This number is dramatically worse in voice-intensive occupations. School teachers report problems with their voices 60% of the time in their lifetime and 11% at any given time.
Remember that your general health will have a lot to do with your vocal health. People that eat well, watch their weight, minimize alcohol and exercise will have the stamina and strength to support their voices.
To preserve and protect your voice, Dr. Benninger suggests these simple tips to keep your pipes healthy:
Your voice is powerful and it plays an essential role in your life.
For example, researchers in the United Kingdom studied the vocal ranges of men and women in courtship scenarios. Results show that men and women vary the strength, tone and pitch of their voices when speaking to members of the opposite sex whom they find attractive. Another study shows that hearing a mother’s voice helps develop the brain of a preemie.
In addition to normal daily use, events such as sports games or concerts where you cheer and talk loudly may strain your voice. It’s actually possible to bruise your vocal folds, which can create a scar and may result in your voice sounding less clear.
If you’re someone who uses your voice for a living, it might be worthwhile taking a few voice lessons either through a speech (voice) pathologist or a singing teacher. They can teach you techniques to improve vocal efficiency and reduce fatigue.
Short periods of hoarseness following a respiratory infection or after a long or loud period of voice use is not uncommon. With some voice rest, these should resolve within a short period of time.
If your hoarseness lasts more than two or three weeks and is not gradually improving, particularly if you smoke or do not have cold-like symptoms, see your doctor.
If there is significant concern, your primary care physician will likely refer you to an ear, nose and throat doctor, also known as ENT doctor or an otolaryngologist, who is specially trained to diagnose and treat problems of the larynx.
Fortunately, even with prolonged hoarseness, truly worrisome or life-threatening conditions are rare, and treatment usually is effective.
In the long run, if you have a healthy lifestyle and approach the care of your voice the same as with your overall health and wellness, you will keep your voice strong and vigorous.