Did you know that vocal problems are not only an issue for singers and performers, but also for anyone who significantly stresses their vocal cords? This includes physicians, who spend hours each day talking with patients, teaching students and dictating their notes.
“We see a lot of physicians who are straining their voices with hours of dictation, meeting with patients and teaching,” said Jayme Dowdall, MD, a laryngologist in the BWH Otolaryngology Division. “And there is treatment and therapy we can provide to help with that.”
In honor of World Voice Day on April 16, Dowdall and speech pathologist Chandler Thompson, DMA, MS, CCC-SLP, shared the following tips, adapted from the National Center for Voice and Speech, to keep your voice healthy.
- Speaking loudly or over long periods of time may lead to a voice disorder. Use a headset when dictating notes or talking on the telephone. Minimize background noise, especially when speaking for long periods of time.
- Hoarseness or breathiness may signal a voice disorder. If hoarseness persists longer than two weeks, see a doctor.
- Stress can lead to forceful voice production resulting is possible tissue damage. Give yourself a “voice nap”—10 minutes of every hour is helpful.
- Caffeine and alcohol dehydrate vocal cords, which can make it more difficult to keep them vibrating. Drink plenty of water to combat their drying effects. Dry vocal cords require more effort to get them moving, so hydration really helps.
- Some medications lead to dehydration of the vocal cords. Consult www.ncvs.org for a list, or talk with your physician or pharmacist.
- Repeatedly clearing the throat or coughing may irritate vocal cord tissue. Increase nasal moisture by using nasal saline spray or gel to decrease the irritation that causes you to want to clear your throat.
- Frequent heartburn and a sour taste may mean stomach acids are spilling over into your larynx which may lead to voice problems. Many people never feel heartburn, but actually do have evidence for airway reflux. Consult a physician.
- Smoking irritates tissues used for singing and talking. Second-hand smoke is also irritating and unhealthy.
“We encourage physicians or any staff, for that matter, to make an appointment with Otolaryngology’s Voice Program if you find that your voice is tired after talking with patients on a long clinic day, or you experience voice breaks, pain or vocal fatigue while dictating,” said Thompson. “Other symptoms, like hoarseness, running out of breath while speaking or clearing your throat often could indicate that you will benefit from seeking therapy.”