​Why it’s important to care for your voice

voice day

People have their own unique vocal signatures, from their vocal quality to the stylistic features of speech, including inflection, pitch, and rate. Our voices are one of the defining features of who we are, and on World Voice Day we’re calling attention to an often-neglected aspect of wellness: voice health.

Some people modify their voice by using more effort, creating a lower pitch to sound more authoritative or raising their pitch and increasing inflection to sound friendlier. Interestingly, studies have shown the cognitive and social benefits of matching speaking patterns among peers, which may explain the popularity of some common patterns such as glottal fry, also known as vocal fry (a “creaky” sound to the voice).

Are all speech patterns created equal or do some put undue stress on the vocal cords? Certain behaviors can create more strain on the voice for some people. However, a particular vocal pattern itself is not typically the sole reason for vocal decline. Many times, multiple factors contribute, including vocal demand, stress and emotion, changes to the vocal cord structure, and medical issues that can lead to problems with the voice.

You can take steps on your own to improve and maintain your vocal health. These include staying hydrated, avoiding smoking, and minimizing vocally demanding behaviors such as talking loudly for long periods of time, cheering, yelling, or frequent coughing and throat clearing.

Vocal strain can lead to a change in the overall quality of your voice, and at times, discomfort or pain with speaking. If you are finding that you are stepping away from social engagements or interactions in your work because of your voice, consider getting an evaluation.

Hoarseness or voice changes that last longer than two to three weeks, outside of illness or excessive voice use, should be evaluated by an ear, nose and throat doctor; in particular, you'll want to visit a doctor who specializes in the voice, known as a laryngologist. Treatment options can vary depending on your evaluation but can include voice therapy with a speech-language pathologist who has special training in the treatment of voice disorders. Our Voice Center at the University of Chicago Medicine provides patients with access to a comprehensive team of medical professionals trained specifically in the care and treatment of vocal conditions.

Your voice is a defining factor of who you are and is often one of the first things others notice about you. Much like you take care of your body, it is also beneficial to take care of your voice to maintain vocal longevity.