Raise your voice
Whether you’re a professional singer, university lecturer, barrister or work in customer service, your voice is quite possibly your most valuable assets. Looking after your voice is essential, and when it comes to disorders of the voice, early detection key to a good outcome.
Your voice is produced when air passes from the lungs to the larynx (or voice box), causing the vocal cords to vibrate. This sound is sent through the throat, nose and mouth, producing the voice’s distinctive pitch and resonance.
Voice disorders may be caused by cancers of the throat or larynx but are more commonly the result of benign conditions such as vocal fold polyps, scarring on the larynx, vocal fold paralysis and infections such as the wart virus.
Patients with neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease often experience voice and swallowing problems, and, a small number of patients suffer laryngeal trauma as a result of injury, which can also affect the voice.
Detecting and diagnosing voice disorders
Dr Amanda Richards is President of The Australian Voice Association and one of the founding ENT specialists at the new Pinnacle Surgery at Epworth. She is also one of only three dual fellowship-trained laryngology and head and neck cancer specialists in Australia.
“The most common early symptom of a disorder is a change in the sound of the voice,” says Dr Richards.
“Pain is less common,” she says. “The vocal folds are very delicate structures and it only takes a tiny lump or bump to cause a change in the voice. Pain is generally a later sign of laryngeal problems.”
Making an accurate diagnosis is the first step to finding the right treatment. Voice surgeons will perform a perceptual voice analysis, where they listen for certain sounds, before performing videostroboscopy. Videostroboscopy, the latest in imaging technology, is able to pick up the subtle movements of the larynx not seen in a traditional nasendoscopy, but may not be available in all ENT clinics.
“Once we know exactly what’s going on we can tailor treatments to the patient’s needs,” says Dr Richards. ”This doesn’t always mean surgery, treatment will often be voice therapy or medication.”
If surgery is required, depending on the condition, many procedures can now be performed awake, without the need for general anaesthetic.
Looking after your voice
While the vast majority of people come along to see a voice specialist because they’ve notice something wrong, professional voice users often use these services to protect their voice and keep it in optimal condition.
“We describe professional voice users as vocal athletes,” says Dr Richards. “And just like any other athlete they need to be well hydrated and make a habit of warming up and cooling down their voice.”
Voice specialists suggest something as simple as 15 minutes of gentle vocal exercises, such as lip and tongue trills, in the morning and evening can help keep the voice in top shape. The same training is critical for a good outcome after surgery.
The most important thing for professional voice users, really for everyone, is to be observant. If you notice a persistent change in your voice get a check up as early as possible. Talking through it could cause more damage.