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Johns Hopkins Health - Talking Points

Fall 2010
Issue No. 10

Talking Points

Date: October 20, 2010

mouth and microphone

Keep your voice in top shape by practicing good vocal health

Unless you’re a professional performer, you might not pay much attention to your voice. But according to laryngologist Lee Akst, M.D., who directs the Johns Hopkins Voice Center, one in four people—and one in two teachers—will experience a vocal problem during his or her life. The good news is you don’t have to suffer in silence. Akst shares some words of wisdom.

Do some professions require greater attention to good vocal health?
We’re in a communications-based society, so many people’s jobs involve talking to others. This is especially true for coaches, teachers, journalists, members of the clergy, attorneys, salespeople and, of course, singers and actors. But being able to use your voice is important for everyone.

What lifestyle choices can I make to protect my voice?
Drink lots of water—which lubricates the vocal cords and helps them vibrate better—don’t smoke, and limit excessive yelling and screaming. Speak on full, deep breaths and pause to take a breath before you run out of air. If your voice starts feeling fatigued or rough, your body is telling you to back off on how much you’re using your voice.

What if I still need to talk?
When your voice is feeling rough, speak normally. The worst thing you can do is push or talk louder to compensate for the roughness, which can cause vocal cord damage. Don’t whisper, either. It’s just another way of trying to squeeze out your voice. Use a microphone when addressing large groups, and prioritize your voice use by not talking when you don’t have to.

How do I know if I might have a vocal problem that should be looked at by a doctor?
By definition, anyone whose voice isn’t working the way they’d like it to work has a voice problem. If your voice is rougher or quieter than you’d like it to be, or if speaking requires more effort, then it’s a voice problem. Symptoms might include hoarseness that lasts more than a couple of weeks or that is associated with ear pain, difficulty swallowing or painful speaking. Even if you don’t have symptoms, have your voice evaluated and treated if it is keeping you from living your life.

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