Do You Experience a Hoarse Voice and Rely on Your Voice in Your Work?
"Hoarseness may have many causes, and if not improving after a cold or infection, you should be evaluated by an otolaryngologist or ENT (ear, nose and throat doctor). "
Losing your voice is often inconvenient, especially if you rely on talking and your voice to make a living. For actors, singers, teachers, lawyers—anyone who communicates in a professional capacity—the ability to speak with clarity and without pain, is essential.
Hoarseness may have many causes, and if not improving after a cold or infection, you should be evaluated by an otolaryngologist or ENT (ear, nose and throat doctor). If your symptoms continue to persist after several days or weeks), your hoarseness could be a sign of a voice disorder, also known as a dysphonia to determine the exact reason for the hoarseness.
If you suspect you might have a voice disorder, the good news is, there are a number of treatment options available. Once you have been seen by an ENT, you will need to then be evaluated by a speech-language pathologist who has experience with a variety of voice disorders, preferably one certified in orofacial myology.
To help you prepare for a discussion of your symptoms with an ENT and a speech language pathologist, here’s a break down some of the most common voice disorders seen with people who use their voice frequently for their work or their past time, along with some of the different treatment options out there, so you can understand what might be causing your hoarseness and get your voice back to its full capacity.
Getting to the Root of Your Hoarseness
A few of the most common hoarseness-causing voice disorders due to voice overuse, incorrect breathing and vocal strain are vocal cord nodules and muscle tension dysphonia, often due to vocal hyperfunction also known as phonotrauma.
Vocal cord nodules are benign, callus-like growths that tend to arise as a result of muscle overuse, usually following activities like singing, yelling or talking a lot with strain. They occur on the tissue of the vocal cords and are usually symmetrical, that may go away with proper therapy. If not, they become harder and more difficult to reduce and may require a surgical option.
Vocal hyperfunction is caused by muscle overuse—in this case, the laryngeal muscles—and often goes hand-in-hand with muscle tension dysphonia (MTD), a common disorder in which the laryngeal muscles become so tight that it may cause inflammation in the surrounding tissue and prevent easy muscle movements to produce voice from occurring.
Breathing is an important factor to consider in using your voice well. Breathing through the mouth causes cool, dry air to enter the body and allow more bacteria and germs than through nasal breathing. Many people will have more upper respiratory infections and allergies when they breathe through their mouth. The negative effect of mouth breathing on the voice, is often drying to the mucosa lining of the vocal cords, which results in more voice difficulties.
A tight or short attachment under the tongue might contribute to muscle tension dysphonia (MTD) by putting strain on the muscles of the larynx. This condition, also known as ankyloglossia, is able to be identified by a voice therapist who is also a certified orofacial myologist.
Treating Your Voice Disorder
Voice therapy can help identify and eliminate any environmental factors that may be contributing to your voice disorder, while improving your vocal habits, breathing efficiency, muscle use, projection and more. Depending on your specific condition, your voice therapist will choose the appropriate treatment methods and techniques, including vocal function exercises meant to restore strength and balance, resonant voice therapy, breathing exercises including Buteyko Breathing and Laynee Restorative Breathing Method™ and more dynamic methods like myofascial release therapy (MFR) or VoiceGym.
Identifying breathing dysfunction is a large part of voice dysfunction. Helping speakers develop better nasal breathing, especially when not talking, makes a big impact on vocal health.
In Pain? You’ll Love Myofascial Release
For muscle tension causing pain in addition to hoarseness, myofascial release therapy can bring fast, often enduring relief. Myofascial release is a hands on, manual technique in which sustained pressure is applied to the soft tissue in and around the neck where the larynx or voice box is located and surrounding regions until the tension melts away. Patients often have lessened pain for several days following a session.
Hit the (Voice) Gym
VoiceGym is an exercise program that was developed by a vocal coach, Angela Caine in the early 1990s to help maintain “the coordination and efficiency of voice, body and brain.” The technique was designed to help people like singers, professional communicators and exercise instructors maintain the power and resonance of their voices while performing physical activity. VoiceGym involves a combination of functional anatomy, Pilates and similar exercises, and is often used with patients who have orofacial myofunctional disorders such as tongue thrusting and restricted tongue movement, by changing the placement of the tongue and the hyoid bone that is attached by muscle, also attached by muscle to the laryngeal structures where voice is produced.
Articulate Your Symptoms and Yourself
Whether you rely on your voice professionally or socially, trying to communicate while dealing with hoarseness can be frustrating at best and painful at worst. At Alliance Speech & Language Center, we work closely with laryngologists and ENTs specializing in voice disorders to identify whether the cause of your hoarseness is in fact a voice disorder and, if so, develop the right treatment plan for you.
To learn more about our experience treating singers, actors and other professional speakers with voice disorders, or to schedule an appointment, please contact us.