From the first tip-off during March Madness to the championship’s final buzzer, and with start of the 2010 Major League Baseball season, on Sunday, April 4, thousands of people will relentlessly scream and shout, placing tremendous strain on their voices. While no one is recommending complete silence, the constant pressure on the vocal cords can cause great damage.
“Yelling at basketball and baseball games, talking too much on your cell phone, and other forms of overuse can damage your voice,” says Lee M. Akst, M.D., assistant professor in the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine Department of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery and director of the Johns Hopkins Voice Center. “Red flags for an over-used voice are frequent hoarseness, a sense of strain while talking, or discomfort while speaking. If hoarseness lasts for more than two weeks or is accompanied by ear pain, difficulty breathing, or difficulty swallowing, it may indicate a potentially serious vocal cord condition. If these symptoms occur, then you should be evaluated by an ear-nose-throat specialist as quickly as possible.”
The American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS) says nearly three of every 10 people have experienced voice problems. Chronic hoarseness is an occupational hazard not just for singers, but for coaches, teachers, broadcast journalists, clergy, attorneys, and other people who use their voices a lot as part of their professional responsibilities. “According to AAO-HNS statistics, more than one in four people in the United States report voice disorders during their lifetimes,” says Akst, “and this number goes up to more than one in two for high-risk professions such as teaching.”
Akst recommends the following steps to protect your voice:
• Drink plenty of water. Moisture helps keep thin secretions flowing to lubricate vocal cords.
• Try not to scream or yell at ball games or other similar events. This can strain the lining of the vocal cords.
• Don’t overuse your voice. Give it a rest rather than talking on the cell phone all the time.
• Don’t smoke.
• Use good breath support. Fill your lungs before talking and don’t wait until you are almost out of air before taking another breath to power your voice.
• Use a microphone when giving a speech or presentation.
• Most of all, pay attention to how your voice sounds and how your voice feels. If you are getting hoarse or strained, know when to rest your voice so that it can recover.
World Voice Day is Friday, April 16. According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery Web site, the theme for this year is “Love Your Voice.” The motto is a reminder to people of the value and significance of vocal health in everyday life. The organization’s Web site also states that “World Voice Day encourages men and women, young and old, to assess their vocal health and take action to improve or maintain good voice habits.” The American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery has sponsored the U.S. observance of World Voice Day since its inception in 2002.
NOTE: During interviews, Dr. Akst can give pointers to interviewers on how to save their voice and offer ways to take care of their vocal cords.
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