Keeping your voice healthy will ensure you are able to communicate properly, and for some people who rely on it to earn a living – singers, teachers and lawyers, for instance – good voice health is essential. These same individuals tend to put more strain on their vocal cords.
Even those whose professions don’t require constant speaking still suffer when experiencing voice-related health issues. It is estimated that 7.5 million people experience voice disorders.
Understanding How the Voice Works
The vocal folds, groups of muscle tissue in the larynx, are normally open to allow breathing. When you speak they close, while air from the lungs makes them vibrate. This produces sound. The size and shape of the vocal folds and surrounding cavities (throat, mouth and nose) help determine the pitch, volume and tone of your voice. This is what makes it unique. When illness or disease affects your voice, it can change the pitch, volume and quality of sound.
Symptoms of a voice disorder include a hoarse, raspy or weak voice; decreased range in pitch, volume and projection; vocal fatigue; shortness of breath; coughing; sore throat; chronic throat clearing; and voice loss. If these symptoms last longer than two weeks, seek the attention of a doctor. An otolaryngologist is the most qualified medical professional for diagnosing voice problems.
Common Voice Problems
The majority of voice disorders are related to conditions that can be treated. They rarely indicate a serious health problem, and are usually curable.
One of the most common voice problems is vocal cord abuse. This occurs when you use your voice improperly; shouting, whispering, and frequent throat clearing cause strain and fatigue of the vocal cords. Continued abuse can lead to permanent voice damage and a number of serious medical issues such as laryngitis, polyps, cysts and vocal fold swelling.
Other conditions that can affect the voice include upper respiratory infections, acid reflux, tobacco smoke, hormones, vocal nodules, neurological diseases, and tumors.
Keeping Your Voice Healthy
The key to good voice health is prevention. Make sure to use your voice properly; avoid straining the vocal folds through improper pitch and volume, and keep them moist by drinking lots of water, especially when speaking. Limit your caffeine and alcohol intake, as these can dry out the throat. A humidifier is a great way to prevent dry air. If you are experiencing vocal strain, it’s crucial to rest your voice in order to avoid permanent damage.
Voice disorders caused by conditions such as acid reflux or upper respiratory infections can be treated with drugs, while surgery will likely be needed for vocal cord lesions.
When you swallow, you are chewing food and moving it to the esophagus, a tube that connects to the stomach. Dysphagia, the medical term for difficulty swallowing, is characterized by the sensation of food or liquid getting stuck in the throat or chest. There are numerous factors that can cause swallowing difficulty, most of them fairly benign.
The Swallowing Process
Few of us give much thought to the act of swallowing, but it’s actually a complex process that involves around 50 pairs of muscles and nerves.
There are four stages that make up the swallowing process:
- Stage 1: Oral preparation stage.Food is chewed to prepare for swallowing.
- Stage 2: Oral stage. The tongue pushes food or liquid to the back of the mouth.
- Stage 3: Pharyngeal stage.Food or liquid passes through the pharynx into the esophagus.
- Stage 4: Esophageal stage.Food or liquid passes through the esophagus and enters the stomach.
Symptoms & Causes of Swallowing Disorders
Swallowing disorders indicate persistent problems with chewing and swallowing. The main symptoms are discomfort when swallowing, chest pain and the feeling that food or liquid is getting stuck in the throat or chest. Additionally, you may experience drooling, heartburn, nausea, wheezing, coughing, regurgitation, sore throat and a sour taste in the mouth.
Causes of dysphagia are diverse. They may originate in the esophagus and include diffuse spasm, an improperly relaxed sphincter, weak esophageal muscles, a narrow esophagus or esophageal ring, the presence of foreign bodies, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a hardening of the tissues called scleroderma and tumors.
In addition, the muscles and nerves responsible for swallowing can weaken as a result of neurological disorders, pharyngeal diverticula or cancer. Children may have difficulty swallowing if they suffer from certain nervous system disorders or a cleft palate.
Treatment for Swallowing Disorders
Treatment for swallowing disorders depends on the underlying cause and where the problem originates. Medication, surgery and swallowing therapy are the most common types of treatments administered. Medications include antacids, muscle relaxants and drugs to limit the amount of stomach acid produced.
A surgical procedure to stretch or dilate the esophagus when it is too narrow often helps resolve the issue. Swallowing therapy involving chewing and swallowing techniques can help stimulate the muscles and nerves responsible for swallowing. The most severe cases of dysphagia may require a liquid diet or feeding tube.
Call Sound Health Services for more information or to schedule an appointment.