UNM Participates in World Voice Day

The UNM Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences participated in World Voice Day on April 16. It’s a day otolaryngologists – ear, nose and throat doctors – and other voice health professionals worldwide encourage people of all ages to assess their vocal health and take action to improve or maintain good voice habits.

The American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery has sponsored the U.S. observance of World Voice Day since its inception in 2002.

World Voice Day 2010 had the theme, “Love Your Voice,” to remind people of the value and significance of vocal health in everyday life. The human voice holds emotional power and can elicit many feelings. Voice problems can arise from overuse or misuse, cancer, infection or injury. “We remind people that our voices require care to keep them healthy,” said Phyllis Palmer, associate professor, Speech and Hearing Sciences.

I went for the screening, not so much because I love the sound of my own voice, but because my voice changed following neck surgery two years ago. Since then, my voice is raspier, I have trouble projecting, I get spasms in my neck and I had to give up singing in church choir.

The screening involved a Vocal Behaviors Checklist, which asked about everything from alcohol and caffeine consumption – they dry out the vocal cords – to prolonged voice use, environmental irritants, and my favorite, “singing in an abusive manner.”

Another questionnaire reveals evidence of physiological, social and personal problems associated with voice issues. Apparently, my raspier voice hasn’t made me less vocal or minimized my socializing or willingness to talk, but it has impeded the ability for others to hear and understand me in noisy settings, I have to strain to project and sometimes have to repeat myself.

Then we got done to the nitty gritty. I had to say, “1, 2, 3eeeee,” holding the “e” as long as I could. Then I had to read a passage, sustain “s” and “z” sounds, all of which I completed with relative “eeeease.” Then I had to sustain the “ah” sound. I couldn’t hold it for anywhere near the duration of the previous sounds, and the raspy nature of my voice was revealed.

I had to sing “Happy Birthday,” in as high a pitch as possible. I sang it to Dr. Palmer, who doesn’t want to be a year older. My voice didn’t crack. I credit my choir director, David Ziems, with teaching me great breathing techniques that got me through that exercise.

Finally, I had to say “ah, ah, ah,” as many times as I could in 5 seconds. No problem. I met the average for a person of my age, which I won’t reveal here.

Dr. Palmer gave me a sheet with daily warm up exercises. I think those might help in particular with the spasms in my neck muscles. She told me that she thinks I can benefit from voice therapy, but before engaging in it, she wants me to go to an ENT for a “laryngeal visualization,” which means they’ll put a camera down my throat to look at my larynx to make sure there is nothing structurally wrong with it that could be exacerbated by therapy. I made an appointment with my primary care doctor to get the referral. Who knows? Maybe I’ll be back in choir by fall!

Here are 10 simple but important tips on how to show your voice the affection it deserves:

Embrace hydration. Moisture is good for the voice, and drinking plenty of water throughout the day is the best way to stay hydrated.

Kiss but don’t yell. Yelling or screaming is always bad for the voice, as it puts a lot of stress on the delicate lining of your vocal cords.

Hug a microphone when speaking in public. When you are called upon for public speaking, particularly in a large room or outdoors, use a microphone. The amplification allows you to speak at conversational pitch, yet reach the entire audience.

Warm up your voice by saying a few sweet nothings. Warming up the voice is not just for singers; it helps the speaking voice too. Doing simple things like lip or, tongue trills, or gliding up and down your range on different vowels, will help warm up your voice.

Always clear the air, but don’t clear your throat. Clearing your throat is like slapping or slamming the vocal cords together. Instead of clearing your throat, take a small sip of water or swallow to quench the urge.

Go ahead and look hot, but never smoke. Likely the single worst thing you can do for your voice is to smoke. It causes permanent damage to the vocal cord tissues and is the number 1 risk factor for cancer of the larynx (voice box).

Know what you’re feeling. When you are in a place with loud background noise, you don’t realize how loudly you may be talking. Pay attention to how your throat feels in these situations, because it will often feel raw or irritated before you notice the vocal strain you are causing.

Think good breath support, not just heavy breathing. Breath flow is the power source for voice. Don’t let your breath support run down before refilling your lungs and refueling your voice.

Be a good listener. If you hear your voice becoming hoarse when you are sick, be sure to rest it as much as possible. Pushing the voice when you have laryngitis can lead to more serious vocal problems.

Check it out. If your voice is persistently hoarse or not working well, be sure to seek evaluation by an otolaryngologist – head and neck surgeon (ear, nose, and throat physician).