Good vocal health may not seem very important to you … unless you lose your voice

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By JoAnna Sloggy
Special to KyForward

World Voice Day took place on April 16 to celebrate the human voice and to raise awareness for voice disorders, vocal health, vocal training and voice research.

In the United States, 7.5 million people currently have trouble using their voices. We often forget the important role voice plays in our daily lives. World Voice Day is a time to stop and consider the importance of the human voice in every part of our daily lives.

Voice adds intent, mood, and meaning to the words we speak. Imagine the interpersonal loss of not being able to express yourself vocally through speech and song. Voice is created by vibration of the vocal folds, and a voice disorder occurs when the vocal folds are unable to vibrate well enough to create a clear vocal sound.

A voice disorder may be caused by voice overuse or misuse, neck and throat injuries or growths, and diseases such as cancer or Parkinson’s Disease.

Most people have experienced temporary vocal problems such as hoarseness or loss of voice caused by allergies, colds, or even from cheering too enthusiastically for your favorite teams. Usually, voice returns to normal within several days. However, if voice change lasts for longer than two weeks, the problem should be checked by a medical doctor.

To keep your voice healthy, follow these vocal hygiene recommendations.

Vocal Health Tips

Listen to how your voice sounds: Hoarseness or other voice changes lasting longer than two weeks should be evaluated by a voice care team, such as an otolaryngologist and a speech-language pathologist who specializes in voice disorders.

Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of water to keep your vocal folds and voice box well lubricated.

Quit smoking: Tobacco, nicotine, chemicals, inhaled heat, and other substances can cause inflammation and swelling of the voice box and cause cancer in the mouth, nose, throat and lungs.

Avoid screaming, cheering loudly, or talking over loud noise: These behaviors cause damage to the vocal fold tissue and strain to the voice muscles.

Limit alcohol and caffeine: These substances have a drying effect on the vocal folds.

Avoid repeated throat clearing and/or coughing: These behaviors can cause vocal damage. Try sipping water and swallowing hard when you have the urge to cough or throat clear.

Manage acid reflux: Stomach acid can damage the tissue of your throat and cause hoarseness and other vocal problems

Give your voice a rest when recovering from hoarseness: When your vocal folds are swollen and inflamed, there is increased risk of vocal damage. Until your voice returns to normal, avoid straining or forcing your voice.

Give your voice a break: Vocal “naps” are good when your voice is tired from over use or from talking too loudly.

You are never too young or too old to stop and check your vocal health and make changes to improve or maintain your good voice habits.

JoAnna Sloggy, MA, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist and singing voice specialist at the UK Voice & Swallow Clinic.

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