Estimates place the number of Americans with disorders or diseases of the voice at 7.5 million. But many common vocal problems can be prevented.
From soothing a newborn to shouting for joy, the voice is our most common form of communication, central to nearly everything we do. And while we might expect performers, on-air personalities, professional speakers and others in the spotlight to suffer from voice problems, those in less glamorous fields are affected, as well.
“We often associate voice disorders with professional singers or actors,” says Donna Saur, a senior speech language pathologist and specialist in voice disorders at MedStar Washington Hospital Center. “But the truth is injuries are just as common for teachers or tour guides—really, anyone who uses their voice for a living.”
The teaching profession is especially hard hit. In fact, several studies report that teachers have a higher, lifetime prevalence of voice disorders than non-teachers, often nearly double the rate. Research findings from Duke University Medical Center go even further, suggesting that vocal disorders among all occupations account for nearly as many days of short-term disability claims as asthma, heart disease or depression.
Estimates place the number of Americans overall with disorders or diseases of the voice at roughly 7.5 million. While some voice problems may be symptoms of an underlying, more serious disease like cancer, most are preventable by avoiding overuse or vocal cord strain.
“There are a few basic strategies everyone can use every day to protect and preserve the voice,” says Saur. “Keep yourself well-hydrated. Don’t try to talk above background noise.” And especially for teachers: “Find non-verbal ways to attract attention, such as clapping, ringing a bell or blowing a whistle.”
Additional pointers from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders include:
- Avoid speaking or singing when your voice is hoarse, tired or you’re sick.
- Avoid whispering or screaming as both can stress your voice.
- Practice good breathing and voice projection techniques.
- Consider voice therapy to learn how to use your voice correctly.
- If you think you have a voice problem, consult a doctor first to determine the underlying cause.