You don’t need to be a professional singer to know what it’s like to lose your voice or become hoarse. In fact, professional singers are at an advantage due to the extensive training they put their voice through in order to endure long hours and even weeks of performing.
But what about the rest of us who spend eight to ten hours a day speaking to co-workers, delivering lectures, broadcasting the news, taking customer service calls or arguing in the courtroom?
These are in fact the people at the highest risk for vocal fatigue and vocal injury. These are also the people who are more likely to continue putting themselves at risk because they don’t baby their voices the way a professional singer might — alarm bells don’t necessarily go off for a teacher who loses their voice after a day of lecturing or a lawyer after a full day in court.
A night of vocal rest and hot liquids should do the trick, right? Not necessarily.
In some cases simple vocal rest and a few comfortable home remedies can provide relief, but professionals who use their voices regularly may not realize that there could be a serious issue developing if vocal fatigue or voice loss becomes a regular occurrence.
So when do you see a doctor?
Identifying The Problem
The first step in knowing if you should be speaking to a specialist about voice problems is to understand exactly what vocal fatigue is.
Vocal fatigue is medically referred to as Muscle tension dysphonia (MTD), and it is one of the most common types of voice disorders or dysphonia. MTD occurs when there is excessive muscle tension around the larynx, causing the voice box to stop working efficiently. MTD is most commonly caused by stress on the vocals from overuse of the voice, yelling and screaming, excessive acid reflux, exposure to cigarette smoke or possibly the aftermath of having the flu or laryngitis (which caused your vocal chords to swell).
Even being under long periods of stress can cause your vocal muscles to undergo excess strain.
Some tell tale signs that your vocal muscles are under too much tension can include:
- A change in the sound of your voice
- A voice that sounds hoarse, raspy, breathy or weak
- A feeling of pain, tension or weakness in and around the neck, throat or voice box when speaking or singing
- A complete loss of your voice or having your voice ‘give out’
- Changes in vocal pitch – typically going lower
- Sensation of a lump in the throat
When to Call the Doctor
If any of the above symptoms are a regular occurrence or become chronic, it’s time to call your ENT specialist.
It is extremely important to diagnose vocal problems early because if left untreated, MTD can lead to potentially serious vocal complications that can include cysts, nodules, vocal polyps, chronic laryngitis or even vocal hemorrhage.
And treatment doesn’t need to be a scary surgery. In fact, the most effective and most common treatment for vocal fatigue and MTD is vocal therapy (from a trained professional), which will help strengthen your voice and teach your body muscle memory techniques to protect those valuable chords.
Bottom line, no matter what your profession is — your voice is one of your most valuable tools. Keep an eye on symptoms and don’t let them go untreated. Get in touch with a specialist if you think you’re putting your voice under too much stress and avoid painful and potentially chronic problems.
Residents of Colorado, get in touch with the Colorado Voice Clinic if you are experiencing any symptoms of vocal fatigue, think you may have an underlying vocal complication or have questions about professional vocal care and training.