From preschool to postgraduate education, teachers play a crucial role for almost everyone. Vocal communication is critical to traditional teaching, and therefore teachers use their voices for longer periods of time and more loudly than most people in the workplace.
Over time, the additional strain on the vocal chords makes a difference in vocal health.
Symptoms Of A Voice Disorder
Voice disorders may be anything from temporary laryngitis to vocal nodules and permanent voice changes. If you have a voice disorder, your voice may:
- Have a quivering sound
- Sound rough or harsh (hoarseness)
- Sound strained or choppy
- Be weak, whispery or breathy
- Be too high or low or change in pitch
Many voice disorders can be cured with treatment when diagnosed early. If you have a voice change that lasts for a few weeks, your healthcare provider may send you to see an ear, nose, and throat specialist (otolaryngologist).
Teachers At Greater Risk For Voice Disorders
On average, teachers develop voice disorders at twice the rate of non-teachers and are three times as likely to seek medical attention for a vocal problem.
About 11% of teachers report a current voice disorder, and 58% will report at least one over the course of their careers. It has been estimated that 2.5 billion dollars is spent annually on costs related to teacher voice problems. More importantly, student learning may suffer as a result of voice disorders due to loss of classroom time, poor vocal quality and reduced volume.
Reducing Your Risk Of A Voice Disorder
There are a few practical tips teachers can follow to reduce the risk of developing a voice disorder.
- Rest your voice. Group exercises or student discussion allow your vocal cords to rest during the teaching day. Avoid speaking over background noise whenever possible and plan vocal rest after strenuous vocal use.
- Stay hydrated to lubricate the vocal cords. Hydration is essential for vocal health, so be sure drink enough water.
- Know the effects of medications you’re taking. Some medications, such as decongestants, antihistamines, antidepressants and diuretics, may also dehydrate your vocal cords.
- Be aware of surprising health conditions that could impact your voice. Gastric reflux and sinus drainage can have a significant impact on vocal health. If either of these is a problem, consult with your primary care provider to find a management plan that works for you.
Treating Voice Disorders In Teachers
Even with best efforts, voice disorders remain common across the teaching population. With these challenges in mind, we treat teachers with voice disorders in very specific ways.
Amplification is usually recommended if possible. Simple devices, like microphones with a small speaker attached to the body, are relatively inexpensive and widely available. Schools may already have a few devices at hand.
In addition, a skilled speech therapist can work on strengthening and conditioning the voice to recover from a voice disorder and condition a teacher for the heavy vocal demands of the classroom.
Together with an ENT, a speech therapist will work with teachers, or anyone with vocal difficulty, to form the best plan of care with an eye toward the requirements of everyday life.
If you have concerns about your voice, contact a Franciscan Health ENT for an evaluation and ask if speech therapy would be appropriate for you.
By Jessica M. Tucker, MM, MS, CF-SLP
Speech Therapist, Franciscan Health Lafayette East