Frequently Asked Questions

Does heartburn and stomach acid affect my voice?

Yes. Stomach acid can pass up to the throat and irritate the larynx (voice box) and negatively affect voice quality. This condition is called laryngopharyngeal reflux disease (LPRD). It frequently can be prevented by changing the time, type, and amount of food one eats. Also, avoiding alcohol, mint, and caffeine will help to prevent LPRD.

What are singer's nodes?

Singer's nodes, or vocal nodules, are small calluses on the vocal cords. They occur in both boys and girls, but predominately in women. Nodules come from abuse to the vocal cords associated with yelling, screaming, or an unnatural pitch or singing style. Vocal nodules can be treated quite easily and successfully with voice therapy and rarely require surgery.

I have heard that drinking water is good for my voice, is this true? And how much?

Yes. The vocal cords (also called folds) vibrate against each other 100 to 400 times per second and require constant lubrication. Drinking six to eight glasses of water a day and avoiding caffeinated drinks such as cola, tea, and coffee is recommended for sufficient vocal lubrication. If you do drink caffeine, you need to drink additional glasses of water.

What is voice therapy?

Voice therapy involves a patient-centered treatment method to modify behaviors that contribute to voice disorders or in some other way limit normal voice use. Vocal behaviors are changed in two major ways: (1) rigorous application of vocal wellness principles and (2) a series of therapeutic techniques specifically designed to change the way the vocal folds vibrate and how the vocal tract resonates. Voice therapy exercises include postural adjustments, breathing, specific neck and throat relaxation exercises, flow phonation, resonant voice, and exercises to mobilize the muscles of the lips, tongue and jaw. Voice therapy sessions should take place once a week for the first few weeks in order to establish the behavioral changes needed to correct the voice disorder. Common voice disorders such as vocal nodules or muscle tension dysphonia are generally treated in four to eight sessions.

Does smoking affect my voice?

Yes. Smoking and exposure to cigarette smoke irritates and dries the lining of the voice box, thereby decreasing voice quality, promoting reflux laryngitis, and increasing the need for throat clearing. Smoking also destroys lung function, and without good lung function, singing is impossible and speaking can be difficult.

What can be done for a paralyzed vocal cord?

There are several treatments for vocal cord paralysis, and these treatments frequently can result in the restoration of near-normal speaking voice quality. Voice therapy is helpful in the treatment of a paralyzed vocal cord to maximize the voice and to compensate for the immobile vocal cord. Surgery may be needed in conjunction with voice therapy. Certain surgeries can be performed without putting the patient to sleep, and the patient goes home the same day.

My voice is weak. Can something be done to make it stronger?

Yes. A weak voice and a voice that tires easily (vocal fatigue) can be caused by many things. Depending on the cause, a weak voice often can be helped with voice therapy. Alternatively, surgery on the vocal cords to make them bigger (vocal fold augmentation) can be done to correct a weak voice or a voice that tires easily.

What are some indications that I may have a vocal problem?

If you have a vocal problem, you might be experiencing:

  • Breathiness
  • Hoarseness
  • Dryness
  • Pitch problems
  • Shortness of breath
  • Inability to sing softly
  • Breaks in the voice  
  • Pain when using voice
  • Poor quality of voice

Can drugs and medications cause problems in the larynx?

A number of items can cause problems in the larynx, including:

  • Cigarettes
  • Marijuana
  • Antihistamines
  • Aspirin
  • Anything that dulls perception (alcohol, Valium)
  • Thyroid drugs
  • Birth control pills (estrogens)
  • Hypertension drugs
  • Steroids

Can voice problems relating to misuse result in cancer?

Although smoking is identified as a cause of cancer of the larynx, misuse of the voice is more likely to cause nodules, polyps, cysts, or contact ulcers.

When should I seek attention for a voice problem?

If you experience hoarseness or a voice change that persists more than one week without improvement or if it lasts more than two weeks, see your physician. If you experience difficulty swallowing or breathing you should see your physician immediately.

Who is at risk for getting a vocal problem/voice disorder?

Professions at higher risk for getting voice disorders are teachers, attorneys, sales representatives, receptionists, and phone support personnel. Professional singers and actors as well as those working in noisy environments also are at greater risk.

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