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Six Signs there May be a Problem with Your Voice

separator Your voice is the sound of your vocal cords vibrating as air passes out through your larynx. (Some people call the larynx the “voice box.”) Do you ever wonder whether your voice is as healthy as it should be? These are the signs of a problem with your voice: 

  • Hoarseness or raspiness
  • A raw, achy or strained feeling
  • Feeling as though talking is an effort
  • Clearing your throat frequently
  • People always asking you if you have a cold when you do not
  • No longer being able to reach high notes when you’re singing

Problems with your voice can be caused by overuse, using your voice the wrong way, infection, injury and sometimes cancer. There are measures everyone should take to protect their voice: 

Drink plenty of water. Your vocal chords vibrate very quickly when you make any sound with your voice. They need to be well lubricated. Drinking 6 to 8 glasses of water per day helps produce mucous, which helps with lubrication. 

Avoid cigarette smoke. Cigarette smoke (either second- or first-hand) passes by the vocal cords as you breathe in. This causes irritation and swelling, and can cause permanent changes in the quality of your voice. Smoking also increases the risk of throat and lung cancer. 

Use your voice wisely. Constant yelling and screaming is bad for your voice. Talking above a lot of background noise strains your voice too, so try to limit this. If you notice that your voice is becoming hoarse, dry or tired, do your best to stop talking. If you often need to use your voice outdoors or in front of a crowd, it’s a good idea to use microphones and other voice amplifiers. 

Try not to clear your throat too often. Every time you clear your throat, your vocal cords slam together, which can be a strain. Instead, try drinking a sip of water or even just swallowing.  If you find that you have to clear your throat frequently, it’s possible that you could have a medical condition, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease, sinus problems or allergies. Ask your doctor to evaluate your condition.  

Rest your voice when you’re sick. If you have an upper respiratory infection, or even if your voice is hoarse from overuse, keep your voice quiet as much as possible. If you use your voice professionally—if you’re a singer, for example—it’s especially important not to over-tax your voice, because if you do, you could end up with permanent damage. 

Speak in a natural tone. Trying to make your voice sound lower than it really is, or speaking in a higher tone than is natural, can lead to hoarseness and other problems with your voice. Proper breathing technique while you’re using your voice, which includes relaxing your upper body and breathing from your lower chest or abdominal area (not your shoulders and neck), can help decrease tension in your throat and neck. 

When should you see a doctor about your voice?
Everybody has times when your voice becomes hoarse or raspy, for all kinds of reasons. But a good rule of thumb is that if your voice doesn’t return to normal within 2 to 4 weeks after a change, see your doctor. It’s important to know that a change in voice is one of the signs of throat cancer. The earlier this type of cancer is detected, the better the chances that treatment will be effective.

American Academy of Otolaryngology
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