7/22/2014 10:47:00 AM Guest column: Protect your voice, it's the only one you've got
Your voice is as unique as your fingerprint. It helps define your personality, mood and state of health. Unfortunately, approximately 7.5 million people in the U.S have trouble using their voices. They can have problems with pitch, volume and/or quality.
Pitch means the highness or lowness of a sound; volume means the loudness of a sound; and quality refers to the sound's character. A person may use a pitch which is too high or too deep, or speak too loud or soft. He or she might sound hoarse or breathy. Many people with normal speaking skills have great difficulty communicating when their vocal system fails. This failure can occur for many different reasons.
The most common and preventable types of voice disorders are due to abuse and misuse of the voice. A person of any age who uses his or her voice excessively may develop a vocal disorder. Lawyers, teachers, clergy, cheerleaders, singers and professional speakers often develop voice disorders. Much of the chronic hoarseness children experience is caused by this abuse or misuse.
Common problems due to vocal abuse and misuse are muscle-tension dysphonia, laryngitis, tissue growths and vocal cord changes. Anyone experiencing vocal change or hoarseness for more than 10 days should see a physician, who may refer the patient to a speech language pathologist. Speech language pathologists are health professionals trained to evaluate and treat people with voice issues.
Most vocal abuse and misuse disorders are reversible. The best treatment is to identify and eliminate the behavior that created the problem. However, some conditions require additional treatment and therapies. For instance, some people may require medication to block the production of stomach acid or to help reduce allergy symptoms. In other instances, surgery may be necessary to remove growths. In all situations, speech therapy is will help tissues heal and help retrain the body to form new habits so the condition doesn't return.
Practicing good vocal health can help prevent voice damage and ensures a healthy voice for life. Here are some guidelines for good vocal health:
Stay hydrated to keep the vocal cords moist - this is especially important in the dry Arizona climate
Use a quiet, relaxed voice
See your physician to control allergy and sinus conditions, colds and acid reflux
Yelling, singing or talking excessively
Repeatedly clearing your throat
Talking over loud noise
Your voice says so much about who you are. If you feel you are having problems with your voice, please take the time to seek help and care.
Kim Allen, M.S., C.C.C.-S.L.P., is the lead speech language pathologist with Flagstaff Medical Center's Therapy Services. She specializes in voice and swallowing conditions, and her treatment philosophy is to educate, motivate, and provide the patient with the tools for recovery.