Like Opera Singers, Teachers Prone to Voice Stress
In common with professional singers, teachers returning to the nation’s classrooms this month are good candidates for severe voice problems, and Johns Hopkins throat specialists have some tips for them – and anyone whose job demands a lot of loud vocalization. “As part of their profession, teachers use their voices constantly and often in noisy rooms with poor acoustics, forced to project their voices loudly enough so that all students can hear them clearly,” says Lee M. Akst, M.D., an assistant professor in the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine Department of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery and director of the Johns Hopkins Voice Center. “Unfortunately, this voice stress can lead to problems,” he adds.
The American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS) says more than one in four people in the United States reports voice disorders during their lifetime and that this is a particular problem among teachers. AAO-HNS adds that as many as47 percent of our nation’s teachers experience some degree of voice abnormality on any given day,20 percent of teachers report missing work due to voice problems, and one in 10 teachers has been forced to leave the profession because of them.
Akst’s advice to teachers seeking to protect their voices begins with limiting vocal over-use or abuse as much as possible, not smoking, and hydrating the vocal cords by drinking plenty of water during the day. “Do what you need to do and pay attention to how it feels,” he says. “If you start to feel discomfort while talking, try to limit the use of your voice and allow your vocal cords to recover.” Other tips specific for the classroom include:
· Using an amplification system for your classroom if needed so that there’s no need to compete with a noisy environment.
· Moderating your speaking over the course of the school day. Find or create opportunities to rest your voice. Study halls or lunch periods, when you use your voice less, can provide a good time for the vocal cords to recover.
· Prioritizing or limiting voice use in the evenings as necessary, in order to save it for the classroom.
Akst also encourages teachers, especially those who coach teams as well, to pay attention to any signs of throat inflammation. Overuse of the vocal cords and reflux irritation, exacerbated by caffeine, carbonated drinks, alcohol and acidy foods, are the most common causes of vocal cord inflammation.
Conservative cost estimates for therapy, surgery and substitute teaching personnel top $2 billion annually in the United States alone, according to some estimates of the economic impact of voice problems among educators. Akst says any teacher – or anyone else who uses his or her voice professionally and can’t meet the occupational demand, is hoarse for longer than two weeks, finds speaking painful, feels a mass in the neck or has difficulty swallowing should seek a medical evaluation by an otolaryngologist or a laryngologist who specializes in voice disorders.
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