Taking Care of Your Voice
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What is voice?
We rely on our voices to inform, persuade, and connect with other people. Your voice is as unique as your fingerprint. Many people you know use their voices all day long, day in and day out. Singers, teachers, doctors, lawyers, nurses, sales people, and public speakers are among those who make great demands on their voices. Unfortunately, these individuals are most prone to experiencing voice problems. It is believed that 7.5 million people have diseases or disorders of voice. Some of these disorders can be avoided by taking care of your voice.
Causes of vocal problems may include upper respiratory infections, inflammation caused by acid reflux, vocal misuse and abuse, vocal nodules or laryngeal papillomatosis (growths), laryngeal cancer, neuromuscular diseases (such as spasmodic dysphonia or vocal cord paralysis), and psychogenic conditions due to psychological trauma. Keep in mind that most voice problems are reversible and can be successfully treated when diagnosed early.
If you answer "yes" to any of these questions, you may be experiencing a voice problem. You should consult a doctor. An otolaryngologist (oh-toe-lar-in-GAH-luh-jist) is the physician and surgeon who specializes in diseases or disorders of the ears, nose, and throat. He or she can determine the underlying cause of your voice problem. The professional who can help you with improving the use of your voice and avoiding vocal abuse is a speech-language pathologist.
The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) supports and conducts research and research training on the normal and disordered processes of hearing, balance, smell, taste, voice, speech, and language. NIDCD also supports the development of assistive or augmentative devices that improve communication for individuals who have communication challenges. Within the research support for voice is a range of activity from the molecular mechanisms of disease processes, such as papilloma virus, to clinical research that identifies strategies for diagnosis, treatment, or cure of voice disorders.
An active area of research is examining the dose of vibrational exposure that human vocal folds receive during phonation. At the cellular level, the effect of gene expression and protein production are being studied as a function of this vibrational dose. Results may lead to engineered vocal fold tissues that can withstand vibrational stress.
Other studies of voice disorders focus on determining the nature, causes, diagnosis, and prevention of these disorders. These studies may lead to the development of treatments and interventions that will improve the quality of life for those who are already challenged by severe voice disorders. Substantial progress has been made in the development of augmentative communication devices to facilitate the expressive communication of persons with severe communication disabilities. An investigation of conversational performance by users of augmentative communicative devices is in progress. Other funded research evaluates whether a low-cost, laser-activated keyboard for accessing personal computers is feasible. With access to personal computers, individuals with disabilities can immediately use software programs and speech synthesizers for augmentative communication. There is ongoing research on the mechanisms of laryngeal papillomatosis and of laryngeal cancer.
Because teachers are among the individuals with a high incidence of vocal disorders, NIDCD is supporting the development of an educational web site for teachers to support healthy behaviors and protection of their voices.
For additional information on conditions affecting voice, the following NIDCD Fact Sheets are also available:
Here are several ways to contact us:
Toll-free: (800) 241-1044
PubMed is a database developed by the National Library of Medicine in conjunction with publishers of biomedical literature as a search tool for accessing literature citations and linking to full-text journals at web sites of participating publishers. Search the database using "voice disorders" for medical journal articles.
Where can I get more information?
NIDCD maintains a directory of organizations that can answer questions and provide printed or electronic information on taking care of your voice. Please see the list of organizations at www.nidcd.nih.gov/directory.
Use the following keywords to help you search for organizations that are relevant to taking care of your voice:
For more information, additional addresses and phone numbers, or a printed list of organizations, contact:
NIDCD Information Clearinghouse
For questions about laryngeal cancer, contact
Cancer Information Service
NIH Pub. No. 02-5160