The professional voice user is an athlete. The body and voice must be in good physical condition and well trained. But what happens when they aren’t? What can be done to preserve the voice?
What are the symptoms of a voice problem?
Symptoms of a voice problem may include:
- Trouble with sound of the voice: voice crackles or breaks, voice cannot hit the highs and lows in the voice range, voice tires easily, voice sounds breathy, husky or hoarse
- Sensations in the throat: throat tickles, throat is dry, throat burns, throat aches, throat is tight (a feeling of a lump in the throat or a "frog in the throat"), swallowing problems, postnasal dripping (nose fluids that drip down the throat, causing a sore throat or cough)
- Pain - dry, irritating cough; choking spells (often at night); ear or jaw pain
- Other symptoms: difficulty breathing, frequent throat clearing, feeling of fullness in the neck muscles or glands in the throat, coughing up blood
What questions will I be asked during my vocal exam?
Your doctors and voice specialists will take a complete professional voice history. Typical questions asked are: what is the problem, when did it begin, and were there any events that triggered the voice problem or occurred at the same time? Is the voice problem a first-time problem or have there been other episodes? Your vocal caregivers may also ask about your short-, intermediate-, and long-term performance schedule and career goals. Your answers help guide their treatment decisions.
Which doctors and vocal specialists will examine me?
These doctors and voice specialists can include an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat doctor), a speech-language pathologist, a psychologist, a voice teacher or the singer/speaker, and your personal doctor. Together they can help diagnose, treat, and manage your vocal problems so you can get back to performing as safely and quickly as possible.
How will my voice actually be examined?
A formal voice recording is made and analyzed. Another test - videostroboscopy - is the best way to see the vocal folds (vocal cords) and assess their vibration (the vibration makes sound). The larynx (voice box), which is where the vocal folds are located, can also be looked at during this exam.
In a videostroboscopy, an instrument (scope) is passed down the throat. The scope contains a camera, recording device, microphone, and light. It records images of the vocal cords when speaking and at rest.
Videostroboscopy can be performed in a doctor’s office. It is easy to do and does not cause much soreness or pain. Videostroboscopy is also used to see how well the treatment is working. The video that is made can be sent to other doctors and treatment centers in other cities if you are away from home.
Will I have any other medical tests?
Yes. Actually a general medical exam is usually conducted first. This exam looks for health problems that can affect the voice, such as:
- Upper respiratory tract infections (infections in the nose, nose cavity [space behind nose], sinuses [space around the bones of the face], larynx, and trachea [windpipe])
- Laryngitis with or without upper respiratory tract symptoms
- Gastroesophageal reflux (the backward flow of stomach contents up the esophagus)
What can I do to maintain a healthy voice?
- Try not to scream, cheer or yell.
- Drink plenty of water (6 to 8 eight-ounce glasses/day). Water lubricates the vocal cords and hydrates the body.
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine-containing products such as coffee, tea and some colas. These products dehydrate the body (ie, make the body lose its needed water).
- Do not smoke or be in places where there is smoke.
- Use a microphone, when possible, to avoid straining the voice.
- Don’t clear your throat too often. Drink small sips of water to lubricate your throat and help keep you from coughing.
- Rest your voice. Find activities that don’t involve the use of your voice – reading, writing, listening to music, watching TV.
- See your doctor right away if you think you have an upper respiratory infection (an infection in your nose, throat, sinuses, and ears). Follow your doctor’s treatment plan.
- Wash your hands often to prevent colds and flu.
- Don't be an amateur druggist. Many drugs have the potential for affecting the voice. For example, anti-histamines and decongestants for colds and antidepressants tend to dry the voice. Ask your doctor which drugs are safe – and which are not - for the professional vocalist.
- Do warm up and cool down voice exercises. Warm up examples: singing the musical scale, humming, blowing air out from slightly closed lips so they vibrate. Cool down examples: relaxed humming; massage of the neck, throat, and lower face; making a “cooing” sound (as in "coo").
- Get a good night’s sleep (about 8 hours/night).
- Choose healthy "voice" foods. Many fruits have high water content, such as melons, grapes, apples and pears. Avoid spicy foods. The acid from spicy foods could back up into the esophagus and throat. Make an appointment with a dietitian if you need help in selecting appropriate foods.
- Do not gain or lose body weight within a short time period – the "yo-yo" weight loss/weight gain cycle. Keeping your weight stable is important. It helps keep the muscles involved in speaking/singing strong. It also strengthens upright body posture, which is needed for adequate breathing for the vocal professional.
- Buy a humidifier for your home. This machine adds moisture in the air, which soothes the throat.
- Use common sense! Respond to how your voice sounds and feels.
- Vocal wellness focuses on PREVENTION rather than treatment.
- Effective speaking and singing should feel relaxed and effortless - like "hitting the sweet spot."