By: Matthew T. Gill, M.D., Suwanee Ear Nose & Throat
The human voice is an amazing gift that is often taken for granted. We rely on it for communication and personal expression. Illness, injury or misuse may lead to significant voice problems that can disrupt daily work and activities. Many vocations place significant demands on the voice. Teachers are especially prone to voice problems but other examples include singers, preachers, coaches, receptionists, and sales people.
Hoarseness refers to a change in vocal quality. Acute laryngitis from a respiratory infection (common cold, sinusitis or bronchitis) is the most common cause of sudden hoarseness and can even cause complete loss of voice. Failure to rest one’s voice when needed may compound the problem by causing further vocal cord injury or the development of improper compensatory strategies (leading to chronically inefficient voice use and prolonged hoarseness). Causes of chronic hoarseness include irritation from acid reflux or postnasal drip, structural abnormalities of the vocal cords (nodules, polyps, cysts or tumors), vocal cord paralysis, or improper voice technique such as excessive squeezing or tension of the laryngeal musculature.
Tips for maintaining a healthy voice
1) Hydration, hydration, hydration. The larynx (voice box) is a delicate organ and the vocal cords require adequate hydration for optimal function. Drink at least 8 glasses of water, or 64 ounces, per day.
2) Limit or avoid substances that are known to cause damage to the vocal cords. Cigarette smoke is very irritating to the vocal cords and prolonged use is the leading risk factor for laryngeal cancer. Caffeine and alcohol can indirectly cause injury by promoting acid reflux (GERD) or by leading to dehydration.
3) Avoid vocal overuse or misuse. This is a common issue which can lead to vocal cord injury and chronic voice problems. Obvious causes include voice strain from screaming, yelling or cheering; however trying to “power through” when sick instead of appropriately resting your voice can be equally problematic. Try to avoid speaking in noisy environments which require you to raise your voice above the noise to be heard. Use a microphone when available for public speaking. When sick it is best to rest your voice as much as possible. Avoid speaking in especially high or low tones outside of your normal vocal range or whispering as these cause more vocal strain than your regular speaking voice.
Dr. Matthew T. Gill is board certified in otolaryngology-head and neck surgery and has been practicing since 2011. Dr. Gill earned his undergraduate degree from Baylor University where he graduated with distinction from the Honors Program. He received his medical degree from the Medical College of Wisconsin, where he was honored with the Thomas W. Grossman Award in Otolaryngology. Dr. Gill went on to complete an otolaryngology-head and neck surgery residency at Louisiana State University in Shreveport, Louisiana. Dr. Gill welcomes all general adult and pediatric ear, nose and throat patients to his practice, but has a special interest in the surgical treatment of chronic ear infections, hearing loss, and chronic sinusitis.