If your eyesight was taken away, how would you identify people? Listen for their voice!
We recognise people by hearing their voice. Every human has a different voice and whether we know it or not- the voice is major marker of identity for everyone. We gain insight, impressions and make unconscious judgments about people when he hear them talk. A male might have a high pitch voice or a female may have an unusually low voice or a we can tell if someone has been a smoker for a long time as they may have a croaky voice. We also can read people’s emotions, personality and health by hearing their voice. Ever had a conversation over text message and completely misinterpreted the message, due to not being able to hear the person’s voice?
The voice is a small part of the body but one of the most important. Without a voice how would we communicate? Without being too technical, the way the voice works is:
- Air comes out of the lungs, and up into the larynx (voice box)
- The air makes your vocal folds vibrate and move
- As your vocal folds move, they open and shut, alternatively trapping air and releasing it
- The air moves into your pharynx (throat) and up through your mouth
- The air leaves the mouth and what we hear is your voice
- When your vocal folds move or stretch in certain ways, this changes your pitch
The vocal folds are muscles. Just like any muscle in the body, they need to be looked after otherwise problems may occur. Any condition where a person’s voice is not sounding normal can be called a voice disorder.
This can happen to both children and adults. Often it can happen with a cold or other illness; however generally, this is not permanent and the voice will improve as the person’s overall health improves. However, for some, their voice always sounds a bit off.
Some indications of a voice disorder are:
- Hoarse, croaky, strained, tired or shaky voice quality
- Constantly losing your voice
- A voice that is too soft to be heard or doesn’t carry across background noise
- Unusual pitch- constantly too high or too low (compared to others that are the same age and gender)
- A sore, scratchy, dry or uncomfortable throat
- The need to cough or clear the throat during or after talking
Voice disorders can affect approximately 9% of children and 6% of adults.
Women are more likely to develop a voice disorder than males (no shock there seeing as we tend to talk more!). People who use their voice as their main occupation are more likely to have voice disorders such as teachers, speech therapists, lecturers, health professionals, singers, media presenters, auctioneers, lawyers etc. Likewise, those with lifestyle factors (smoking, drinking), medical conditions (reflux, stroke, head injuries, Parkinson’s Disease) or emotional health issues (anxiety, stress) are more likely to experience a voice disorder.
If you fit into one of the above categories or think that is you, there are a few basic things that you can do to help your voice.
- Stay well hydrated with water and avoid dehydrating drinks (caffeine, alcohol), drugs (tobacco) and medications (antihistamines, cold and flu meds).
- Avoid coughing or clearing your throat. Try to swallow and take a sip of water to clear your throat.
- Try to talk without straining your voice and throat and try to be conscious where you are projecting your voice from.
- Avoid whispering or using an unnaturally soft or breathy voice.
- Warm up your voice before using it for long period of time and warm down once finished. Remember it’s just like any other muscle in the body.
- Avoid foods that encourage reflux or increase in saliva (chocolate, very spicy foods, foods with a high acid content, full fat dairy products, high fat foods). Remember this is general list- this differs between individuals.
- Avoid menthol based throat lozengers- as they dry out the throat and voice box.
- Avoid dry, duty or polluted environments. Breathe through your nose, rather than mouth.
- Manage your stress levels.
- Consult your GP to see if any side effects of medications may affect your throat or voice
- Manage your overall health (sleep, weight, diet)
If you want further help, this is where speech pathologists come in. We can help to assess an improve a voice. Often consultations with an Ear, Nose and Throat Specialist (ENT) are beneficial too.