What Your Voice Says About You
Your voice can actually tell you if you're healthy--or not. You just have to listen.
Changes in a person's voice can indicate anything from a common cold or acid reflux to throat cancer or vocal cord paralysis, according to Norman D. Hogikyan, M.D., a vocal health specialist at the University of Michigan.
Voice changes are typically temporary, but if they last longer than a few weeks, they can signal serious problems. "Early attention to voice changes can literally make the difference between life and death for throat cancer patients, and in other cases can help resolve more minor issues before serious ones develop," says Hogikyan in a news release issued by the University of Michigan. When throat cancer is caught earlier, the likelihood of a cure is very good, but if it's not diagnosed until later, removal of the voice box may be required.
What ailments would cause your voice to change?
- Common cold or upper respiratory infection
- Vocal cord lesions, such as nodules or polyps
- Gastroesophageal and laryngopharyngeal reflux disease, caused by acid from the stomach
- Vocal cord paralysis
- Throat cancer
Even if you have no vocal problems, you should still take care of your voice. As Hogikyan says, it's your natural musical instrument.
You can protect your voice by following a few simple tips:
- Drink water to keep your body well hydrated. Avoid alcohol and caffeine. Your vocal cords vibrate very fast and having a proper water balance helps keep them lubricated.
- Don't smoke. If you do smoke, quit. Smoking raises the risk of throat cancer tremendously, and inhaling smoke--even secondhand smoke--can irritate the vocal cords.
- Don't abuse or misuse your voice. Avoid yelling or screaming habitually, and try not to talk loudly in noisy areas. If your throat feels dry or tired or your voice is getting hoarse, stop talking. And don't alter your voice to speak in a higher or lower pitch than normal.
- Don't clear your throat too often. When you clear your throat, it's like slamming your vocal cords together. Doing it too much can injure them and make you hoarse. Try a sip of water or swallow. If you feel like you have to clear your throat a lot, get checked by a doctor for reflux disease or allergy and sinus conditions.
- When you're sick, spare your voice. Don't talk when you're hoarse due to a cold or infection. Listen to what your voice is telling you!
How can you recognize a voice problem? If you answer "yes" to any of these questions and the condition has persisted for at least three weeks, it's time to see a doctor:
- Has your voice become hoarse or raspy?
- Does your throat often feel raw, achy, or strained?
- Has it become an effort to talk?
- Do you repeatedly clear your throat?
- Do people regularly ask you if you have a cold when you don't?
- Have you lost your ability to hit some high notes when singing?
Here's the sound bite: If your voice is complaining, pay attention!