Who is a Professional Voice User?
Professional voice users include singers, actors, professional speakers, and other entertainers. This type of voice use requires exquisite vocal control including: loud and soft projection, extreme high and low pitches, extended phonation times, growling, yelling, screaming, and shrieking. The vocal professional may require extended voice use, often for many days at a time. By the nature of their professions, professional voice users are at greater risk for voice disorders.
A mild voice disorder may go undetected by an average voice user, but can be devastating to a professional voice user. The resulting problems from a voice disorder for the professional voice user include high stress and anxiety, loss of professional reputation, and possibly job loss. Because of the high demands placed on these individuals, expert care must be taken to assess specific vocal problems. The goal in many of these vocalists is to repair damage while retaining the vocal identity and uniqueness of the voice.
Common causes for the professional voice user are infections; excessive talking or singing, screaming and yelling; inhaling irritating agents (smoking, etc.), and acid reflux.
How Do I Know if I Have a Voice Disturbance/disorder?
Knowing if you have a voice disorder may not always be obvious. Some voice users are more attuned to their voices and recognize when they are experiencing vocal difficulties. However, some voice users may fail to recognize that something is not quite right, or may simply accept that vocal difficulties are “normal” for them. The demands of your job or performance schedule may require you to use your voice even when you require vocal “time off.” It is helpful to know the signs of voice disturbance in order to make intelligent decisions about when to take action. Some signs of vocal disturbance are:
- Vocal fatigue
- Frequent throat clearing
- Vocal instability/cracking
- Shaky/wobbly voice
- Persistent choking or coughing
- Inability to project the voice
- Loss of range
- Loss of vocal finesse
How Can Professional Voice be Evaluated?
The professional voice is evaluated by a team of professionals including speech-language pathologists, and otolaryngologists who specialize in voice disorders. A voice teacher or coach may also assist the professional team in the rehabilitation process. The evaluation will consist of specific questions about your history and current vocal demands. Next, the voice will be visualized by videostroboscopy or “strobe” evaluation.
This is accomplished by inserting a rigid scope into the mouth so that the clinician may view the vocal folds with a camera in slow motion to detect any abnormalities with the vocal mechanism. The clinician may decide that it is more advantageous to use a flexible scope that is inserted through the nostrils to view the vocal folds. High speed endoscopy, (an advanced imaging technique compared to stroboscopy) may also be performed. Other testing of vocal function may include acoustic and aerodynamic voice measures. The combination of measures helps the voice team create personalized treatment for every patient. The evaluation will conclude with the care team discussing possible treatment options with you in order to help you use your voice with greater efficiency.
How Will My Voice Get Better?
The treatment of voice disorders varies depending on the cause, type, and severity of the disorder. A team consisting of an otolaryngologists and speech pathologists will work together to decide the best treatment approach. A voice teacher or acting coach may also work with you under direction from the voice care team. Treatment may include modified voice use, medication, voice therapy, surgery, or a combination of these approaches. You will also receive instruction in vocal hygiene which promotes care and awareness of your voice.
How Can I Care for My Voice?
As a professional voice user there are a number of things you can do to keep your voice healthy and working efficiently. The following is a list of things to do and to avoid to keep your voice healthy.
- Drink plenty of water. The body is primarily composed of water and it is necessary to keep your vocal folds lubricated. Like oil in an engine, it keeps things running smoothly. A good rule to follow is the 8x8 rule. 8 ounces of water 8 times a day. This is 64 ounces! You may require more if you are particularly active, or are in a dry environment. A humidifier helps tremendously in dry areas.
- Warm up and cool down the voice. You wouldn’t wake up and run a marathon! Your voice needs a little warm up time before athletic use, and a cool down after to prevent injury to the delicate tissues.
- Exercise regularly. Fitness is global. If your body is well maintained your voice will respond accordingly.
- Wash your hands regularly. Regular hand washing has been shown to prevent viral colds. Colds can be nasty when you must rely on your voice!
- Get enough sleep. Mental and physical alertness helps efficient voice use. A tired body is a tired voice.
- Tell your clinician about any medications you are taking. Some medications may interfere with healthy voice production. It is sometimes possible to alleviate vocal problems by switching medications.
- Smoking (of any kind) destroys respiratory health and dries out the lining of the throat and vocal folds. This also includes smoke filled environments.
- Environments that contain irritating agents. This may not be able to be avoided in some performance situations using smoke machines. If you are sensitive to these chemicals SPEAK UP! Always feel free to explain your situation to your stage director.
- Drinking too much caffeine. Caffeine causes you to loose the fluid in your body. Too much may lead to dehydration of body tissues.
- Excessive alcohol consumption. Alcohol dries and irritates the mucous lining of the vocal folds. Swelling of the vocal folds results from excessive consumption. A casual drink is usually ok, unless you notice hypersensitivity to alcohol.
- Avoid excessive throat clearing and coughing if possible. This adds mechanical stress to the vocal folds and may cause swelling.