Talking on the telephone. Calling out the back door for the dog to come into the house. Giving a presentation in a meeting. Reading a bedtime story. Cheering at a ballgame. Singing with the radio. These are just some of the ways we use our voices.
When we open our mouths, we expect sound to come out. We take our voices for granted and forget there are things we should do to keep our voices healthy.
Many people, perhaps 3 percent to 7 percent of the population, have a voice disorder. Many more have experienced a short-term problem with their voices, perhaps after an upper respiratory illness. People who use their voices as part of their jobs are at a higher risk to develop a voice problem.
Singers, teachers and lawyers are just a few examples of jobs requiring heavy voice use. When you depend on your voice to be able to do your job, not being able to use your voice means lost wages. Among teachers alone, the cost of voice problems is more than $2 billion dollars a year.
Children can experience voice problems as well, often from overuse or misuse of the voice.
The sound of your voice is the result of coordination of air coming from the lungs through the larynx, or voice box, in the throat. The larynx is made of cartilage and small muscles that move together to produce sound as the air flows past the vocal folds. Voice problems can result from improper use of those muscles. Sometimes the vocal folds develop lesions like vocal nodules. An otolaryngologist can examine the larynx and determine what is causing the voice problem. A speech-language pathologist can treat many voice disorders by helping identify the behaviors that caused the voice problem and by retraining the use of the muscles used to produce voice.
To keep your voice healthy:
■ Don't smoke and don't be around others when they are smoking. Smoking affects the lungs, as well as drying out the vocal folds.
■ Drink plenty of water. The vocal folds (like the inside of your mouth) should be moist to work well.
Avoid excessive use of caffeine, which can dry out your throat and larynx.
Don't make your voice work too hard. Don't scream or yell (try clapping instead). Don't routinely talk over background noise.
Treat your voice well so it will be there when you need it.
Nancy B. Swigert, a speech-language pathologist, is director of Speech-Language Pathology and Respiratory Care at Baptist Health Lexington.