Voice disorders cover a wide range of abnormal patterns of vocal use and can include hoarseness, breathiness, harshness, a strangled sounding voice, and decreased pitch range. Chronic voice problems are commonly exhibited by the general population, but motivation to seek treatment for them usually depends on the importance of the voice to the individual’s work. From the professional singer to the football coach, acute vocal strain resulting in hoarseness is the most frequent complaint.
Causes of voice disorders can result from misuse of the voice and vocal structures as well as from neurological impairment of the throat and surrounding muscles. Early diagnosis, medical treatment, and proper therapy make the prognosis for most voice disorders excellent. With a team approach involving the Ear, Nose, and Throat physician (ENT), voice teacher, and speech-language pathologist, most clients with voice disorders can improved rapidly through short-term therapeutic techniques that retrain the voice.
How do I know if I need help?
Any of the following symptoms of voice problems should be diagnoses and treated professionally:
- Persistent sore throat
- Hoarseness persisting beyond three weeks
- Loss of voice
- “Froggy” voice
- Nasality and denasality
- Pitch breaks
What is the process for being evaluated?
Typically, an Ear, Nose and Throat physician (ENT) makes a referral to a speech-language pathologist for an evaluation. In the referral, the ENT describes the condition of the client’s larynx (throat). The primary goal in the evaluation process is to analyze the client’s use of the voice, which includes the following:
- Obtaining the client’s health history, current voice demands, and lifestyle in a short interview
- Determining habitual pitch range, intensity, quality, and tone
- Checking for breath control
- Differentiating the singing and speaking voice
- Testing stimulability to change
How can speech therapy help?
Professional voice treatment is designed to meet each person’s individual needs. Therapy utilizes an approach which retains the vocal apparatus within the demands and context of the person’s life.
A variety of techniques are used which focus on a person’s self-image, train the ear to hear normal and abnormal voicing, and change breathing and phonation patterns to tune the elements of the voice to optimal efficiency. Additionally, voice therapy usually involves practicing strategies which are then implemented within normal daily routines.