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Listen to What Your Voice Is Telling You — Get Ready for World Voice Day

Stony Brook's Voice Specialists Are Here to Help You Take Care of Your Voice

Every year in April, otolaryngologist–head and neck surgeons — commonly called ENT doctors — and other voice health professionals worldwide join together to recognize World Voice Day. It's April 16.

World Voice Day, which was established 14 years ago, encourages men and women, young and old, to assess their vocal health and take action to improve or maintain good voice habits.

The long-term consequences of poor voice care can range from strained vocal cords and chronic hoarseness to deadly head and neck cancers.

The voice specialists of our Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery DivisionMelissa M. Mortensen, MD, otolaryngologist-laryngologist; Elliot Regenbogen, MD, otolaryngologist-laryngologist; and Marilyn D. Baricevac, MS, CCC-SLP, speech pathologist — provide a range of services aimed at vocal health and wellness.

Here, they provide answers to frequently asked questions about voice health, and offer suggestions on how to have a healthy voice:

What are the signs of a voice problem — and what can cause this?

Hoarseness, roughness, raspiness, breathiness, instability (tremor or changes in pitch or volume), or reduced voice endurance are among the first signs of a voice problem. Such changes are related to disorders in the sound-producing parts (vocal folds) of the voice box (larynx). When you speak or sing, the folds come together and, as air leaves the lungs, they vibrate, producing sound. Swelling or lumps on the vocal folds may hinder vibration, altering voice quality, volume, and pitch. Voice problems can arise from voice overuse or misuse, cancer, infection, or injury.

When is it time to see a doctor about a voice problem?

Your should see a laryngologist if you experience hoarseness lasting longer than two weeks, especially if you smoke; or if you're a vocal performer and unable to perform; or if you do not have a cold or flu, and experience:

  • Coughing up blood
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • A lump in the neck
  • Loss or severe changes in voice lasting longer than a few days
  • Pain when speaking or swallowing
  • Difficulty breathing accompanying your voice change
  • Hoarseness interfering with your livelihood

How can I prevent voice problems and maintain a healthy voice?

Use your voice wisely. Avoid habitual yelling, screaming, or cheering. Be aware of background noise — when it becomes loud, your voice volume rises. Try using non-vocal or visual cues, such as a whistle, clap, or hand signal to attract attention, especially with children. If you routinely need to use a loud voice, especially in an outdoor setting, use a voice amplification system. Try not to speak in an unnaturally low pitch or high pitch — it can cause injury to the vocal cords with subsequent hoarseness and a variety of problems. If you feel like your throat is dry, tired, or becoming hoarse, stop talking.

Moderate your voice use when sick. Reduce your vocal demands as much as possible when your voice is hoarse due to excessive use or an upper respiratory infection (cold). Singers should exhibit extra caution. Permanent and serious injury to the vocal cords are more likely when the vocal cords are swollen or irritated.

Minimize throat clearing. Clearing your throat can be compared to slapping or slamming the vocal cords together — and can cause vocal cord injury. Habitual throat clearing may be due to an unrecognized medical condition. Talk to your doctor about seeking treatment if chronic throat clearing is the result of gastroesophageal reflux (GERD), laryngopharyngeal reflux disease, sinus, and/or allergic disease.

Drink water. The vocal cords vibrate extremely fast even with the most simple sound production; remaining hydrated by drinking water aids vocal cord lubrication.

Do not smoke. In addition to increasing the risk of throat and lung cancer, primary and secondhand smoke passes by the vocal cords causing significant irritation and swelling. As a result, vocal quality, nature, and capabilities can change permanently.

What voice services are available at Stony Brook Medicine?

The voice specialists of Stony Brook's Division of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery provide a complete range of services aimed at vocal health and wellness: from advanced diagnostics to laser therapy for voice and throat to laryngeal reconstructive procedures and voice rehabilitation (learn more).

Meet the voice specialists of Stony Brook Medicine. Please join us on Monday, April 11, at 11:00 am to 1:30 pm in the the lobby of University Hospital, outside the Market Place Cafe, to meet our voice specialists. Get suggestions on how to maintain a healthy voice. Find out how to recognize changes that may indicate a problem. Learn about our complete range of services aimed at vocal health and wellness.

Grateful acknowledgment is made to the American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery for its voice health contribution. For consultations/appointments with our voice specialists, please call 631-444-4121.