The Human Voice

The human voice is unique to everyone. Your voice can help express your personality, emotions and even your physical health. Your voice is created by the vocal cords in your voice box (larynx). Our vocal cords open and close as we inhale and exhale to let air in and out of our lungs. Our vocal cords produce sound (voice) when they come together and vibrate as we breathe out. Problems with voice can happen to anyone!

What can cause a voice problem?

Problems with your voice can be caused by one or a combination of factors, such as:

  • Overusing voice (e.g. shouting, talking over loud background noise etc.)
  • Dehydration
  • Stress/Anxiety
  • Reflux
  • Chronic Cough
  • Illness/Disease
  • Traumatic Brain Injury
  • Stroke
  • Natural Ageing
  • Smoking 
  • Significant Alcohol consumption

What can I do to help my voice?

There are several things that you can do everyday to ensure you maintain a healthy and natural voice. 

Maintain hydration. Hydration plays a large role in maintaining healthy vocal cords. Drinking plenty of water not only quenches thirst but, also keeps the vocal cords hydrated and moist for effective and efficient voice production. If you are dehydrated, then your vocal cords are dehydrated which may make it difficult to produce a clear and healthy voice. Drinking 6-8 glasses of water per day can help maintain a healthy voice.

Decrease Alcohol and Caffeine. Decreasing or eliminating the amount of substances containing alcohol and caffeine can also assist in maintaining a healthy voice. Caffeinated or alcoholic substances can dehydrate your body and vocal cords and can also cause your vocal cords to become irritated and sometimes inflamed if a lot of the substance is consumed. 

Decreasing or eliminating smoking. Substances such as tobacco can weaken or damage the respiratory system, which is needed for breathing and a clear, healthy voice. 

Speak in moderation. If you have been using your voice for a long period of time, your voice may begin to get tired and need a rest. Just like if you are running, after a while your body may begin to feel tired and need a rest. If you are required to use your voice frequently for work, try setting aside some realistic rest times throughout the day as much as you can. 

Nose breathing. Breathing through your nose instead of your mouth as much as possible can also help maintain a healthy voice with good breath support. Your nose acts like a filter when we breathe and can filter most environmental pollutants from entering our throat and lungs. 

Some behaviours to AVOID for a clear and healthy voice:

  • Frequent throat clearing – try having a drink of water or swallowing saliva
  • Talking over loud background noise – try turning down the TV or music, walk away from air conditioners 
  • Shouting/Yelling – try waving or whistling to get someone’s attention and move closer to the person 

Signs/Symptoms of voice problems

There are several signs and symptoms to watch out for if you are concerned about your voice. Some of these include:

  • Gradual or sudden changes in the tone/pitch of your voice
  • Gradual or sudden changes in the loudness of your voice
  • Abnormal voice qualities such as, sounding:
    • Strained
    • Breathy
    • Rough
    • Shaky 
  • Having periods of or complete loss of voice
  • Noisy breathing
  • Frequent throat clearing and/or coughing
  • The sensation of having something stuck and/or tightness in your throat
  • Shortness of breath

How can a Speech Pathologist help?

A Speech Pathologist can help in many ways. The treatment approach and techniques will vary for each client. Therapy is individualised to each client depending on their presenting problems and the cause of these problems. If you are concerned about your voice, it is best to see your General Practitioner (GP) or an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) Specialist prior to booking a speech pathology appointment. Some voice problems may require medical management by a Specialist or Doctor prior to or in addition to Speech Pathology intervention.

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