Every day issues that many people encounter like allergies and acid reflux may have more of an impact on your vocal quality than you might realize. Jill Curry, Speech Therapist at UnityPoint Health – Finley Hospital, has chosen voice therapy as one of her specialties so she can help her patients change certain vocal behaviors to ultimately regain control over their voice. Jill sat down to tell us what voice therapy is, things to look out for and what to expect from a voice therapy evaluation.
What is voice therapy?
Voice therapy involves exercises that focus on breath support, vocal cord movement, vocal quality and reduction in muscle tension in the voice box. Sometimes it is necessary to change certain vocal behaviors or habits in order to make a positive change for vocal health. At UnityPoint Health – Finley Hospital, we have computerized software that provides visual feedback for patients to “see” their voices on the screen and assist in making changes in their pitch, quality and volume.
What causes a voice disorder?
A variety of conditions can cause a voice disorder. These can be structural or from nervous system damage. There can be growths on the vocal cords from voice overuse; vocal cord tremor or paralysis from a stroke or a disease; and excessive muscle tension or abnormal movement of the vocal cords. Allergies, acid reflux, swelling, smoking, upper respiratory infections or poor voice habits can also lead to a change in vocal quality.
What are common symptoms of a voice disorder?
Common symptoms of a voice disorder could include:
- Hoarse or breathy vocal quality
- Pitch that is too high or too low
- Voice cracks or cuts off while talking
- Loss of voice range when singing
- Voice/throat pain
- Weak voice or one that fatigues easily
- Feeling like you need to strain to produce voice
- Loss of voice (aphonia)
- Voice tremor
- Sensation of throat closing when attempting to use voice
What does a voice evaluation entail?
A voice evaluation allows me to understand the patient’s medical background and history, and discuss how the patient uses their voice on a daily basis. From there, we examine the head, neck and external voice box (larynx). We use rating scales to determine how the voice problem impacts the individual including functionally, emotionally and physically which tells us the voice handicap index. We then complete one last evaluation of the patient’s breath control, resonance, pitch, volume, melody and rate using a computer-based software called Visi-pitch.
How do you help patients who experience a voice disorder?
It is necessary to educate about normal vocal cord and laryngeal anatomy, general principles of breathing and voicing, and awareness of how some of their habits/behaviors may be causing their voice problems. A Speech and Language Pathologist like myself, can step in and provide suggestions for voice conservation in a professional who uses their voice heavily for their job or provide vocal warm up exercises to singers that may be experiencing trouble with their range or vocal quality. We can also provide feedback about posture, head/neck tension or use of visual reinforcement from voice recordings on computer software.
How can someone who thinks they might have a voice disorder go about scheduling an appointment?
If an individual has been experiencing noticeable hoarseness or persistent changes in their voice for 2-3 weeks or longer, frequent voice loss or trouble with volume they should see their primary care provider who may then make a referral to speech pathology. A doctor’s order is necessary for an evaluation to speech pathology for voice problems.
Questions? Please reach out to UnityPoint Health – Finley Hospital’s Asbury Square Outpatient Rehab by calling (563) 589-2497.