public speaking

Don’t Lose Your Voice: Common Problems and Treatments

If you’ve ever screamed at the top of your lungs at a football game, or chatted on the phone for hours on end, you may have experienced some slight hoarseness. For some people, even small bouts of voice use or brief outbursts of shouting can result in complications with speaking and projecting their voice normally. In fact, problems with speech and projection are more common than you might think.

According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, nearly 28 million Americans experience daily problems with speaking. Most of these people are in professions that rely heavily on communication, including sales, teachers, coaches, lawyers, singers, or people who work in a noisy environment and have to constantly speak loudly.

Many common disorders are caused by over-use of the vocal cords, especially over-use in challenging environments when competing with such variables as background noise, or needing to speak for hours at a time. Other problems can be caused by a virus or a surgical procedure. Even certain lifestyle habits, such as smoking and excessive drinking, or not drinking enough water can have an affect. Here are a few common conditions and how they can hamper your daily communication.

  • Acute Laryngitis: One of the more common conditions that impact the voice, acute laryngitis is caused by a viral infection that causes the vocal cords to swell. The swelling then causes the vocal cords to vibrate differently, leading to hoarseness. The best recommended treatment is to simply stay hydrated and to rest your voice.
  • Laryngopharyngel Reflux Disease (LPRD): This condition occurs when stomach acid travels back up your throat. Hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, or a feeling of something caught in the throat (sometimes a tickling or burning sensation), are common symptoms. Most of the time, LPRD is well controlled with diet modifications and medications.
  • Vocal Cord Hemorrhage: If you experience the sudden loss of your voice, you may have developed a vocal cord hemorrhage. This often occurs from excessive yelling, shouting, or other over-uses of your voice and is caused when a vocal cord blood vessel ruptures. This is considered a medical emergency and is treated with complete rest of the voice until the hemorrhage heals.
  • Vocal Cord Lesions: These lesions on the vocal cords (nodules, polyps, and cysts) are often caused by voice use, and are therefore common in people who use their voices excessively. Fortunately, these lesions are highly treatable, most often with voice therapy, and sometimes also minimally invasive surgery.

Voice Therapy to the Rescue

Often, people do not realize that many voice problems can be treated with voice therapy. According to Amanda Gillespie, PhD, CCC-SLP, director of clinical research at the UPMC Voice Center, most people don’t associate voice problems with the way they are using their voice. “Patients are often surprised that the way they use their voice can actually be the cause of their problem. They assume a voice problem is something that happens to them, or maybe from a medical condition, and is totally out of their control.”

Voice therapy teaches patients how to use their voice in a healthy way to reduce or eliminate any harmful behaviors. Most importantly, says Dr. Gillespie, is the creating new habits that benefit your voice in the long run. “We can work with people to unlearn old habits that can harm the voice and teach voice techniques that will keep them using their voice in all the ways they want or need to for years to come.”

If you would like to learn more about common voice problems or voice therapy, as well as other developments in the field, visit the UPMC Voice Center or call 412-232-SING (7464).