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Voice therapy can improve health and quality of life

November 21, 2011

Our voices are our primary communication tool and how people recognize and identify us. When our voices fail, it’s a physical and emotional nuisance, but it could also indicate a health issue. Pain, discomfort, or difficulty controlling the voice’s pitch, volume, or quality are common voice problems. “Our voices come from complex interactions of several body parts,” says Kyle Gardner, CCC-SLP, speech-language pathologist/therapist. “Damage to lungs, voice box, or mouth can lead to a voice problem.”

Anyone can develop a voice problem, but risk is greater for people whose jobs stress their vocal cords­—singers, coaches, lawyers, and teachers. Screaming, talking loudly, smoking, vocal cord surgery, and throat cancer also increase the risk of developing voice problems. Just as poor posture or bad lifting habits can lead to back problems, bad voice habits can stress vocal cords and cause voice problems.

“If someone develops unexplained voice changes lasting more than two or three weeks, I suggest they see their primary doctor, who may refer them to an ear, nose, and throat specialist and therapy,” Gardner says. Most voice problems are minor and treatable with education, rest, and development of healthy voice habits. “Early detection and preventive steps often stop the progression to serious problems and the need for invasive treatments.”

Symptoms that may signal a voice problem: 

  • Unexplained voice loss or changes (low, raspy, or rough) lasting more than two or three weeks 
  • Hoarseness or breathiness not associated with an illness 
  • Coughing or choking when swallowing 
  • Voice breaks or pitch changes
  • Frequent throat clearing or feeling of a lump in the throat

Caught early, most voice issues respond to therapy and preventive care.