A variety of conditions can impact your voice and your ability to speak.

April 16 is World Voice Day!

An annual event devoted to celebration of the human voice, World Voice Day also encourages women and men to take care of this vital communication “tool.”

Imagine losing your voice and how difficult it would be to interact with friends, family, and co-workers. Believe it or not, a myriad of conditions can impact your voice and the ability to speak.

Dr. Jayme Dowdall, a laryngologist in the Division of Otolaryngology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, has a special expertise in addressing issues and conditions affecting the voice and is hoping to  get the word out on vocal health.

“The voice is so much of who we are,” says Dr. Dowdall. “Laryngitis during a cold or a feeling of phlegm in the throat are really common symptoms that people tend to power through. It’s when they can’t communicate well with their family and friends and can’t perform their job that they come in for an appointment.”

The most basic definition of a voice problem is having a pitch, loudness, or vocal quality which draws attention to itself rather than to what the speaker is saying.  A voice problem may also include pain, discomfort, or fatigue in voicing.

Dr. Dowdall says, “Most commonly there is swelling of the vocal cords, excess mucous, benign lesions like nodules or polyps, and very rarely something more serious like cancer.”

An effective tool for diagnosing voice conditions, laryngeal videostroboscopy (LVS), provides a “slow-motion” view of the vocal folds as they vibrate. LVS assesses factors which may contribute to voice problems and assists in detecting and differentiating lesions and describing muscle movement patterns and the vibratory characteristics of the vocal folds. This can facilitate a more accurate diagnosis and efficient treatment planning.

In LVS, a thin camera with a special lens is used to view the voice box while the patient speaks.  “It’s often reassuring for patients to be able to see a picture of their larynx to understand what is going on,” Dr. Dowdall says.

There are steps you can take to ensure better vocal health on a daily basis.

Dr. Dowdall advises, “Keep well hydrated, conserve your voice for the things you enjoy, avoid hot or spicy foods which will help prevent reflux that can irritate the larynx, and, if your voice has been abnormal for two weeks or more – you should bring this to the attention of your health care provider.”

So celebrate your voice on World Voice Day and pay attention to your vocal health.

Additional Resources:

BWH Voice Pathology Services

National Center for Voice and Speech

The Voice Foundation


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