This week, of course, is concert week. We have three Christmas concerts this weekend, and it is imperative that my voice is fresh, strong, and ready to perform. How can I guarantee it will be, though, if I still am straining my voice all day as a teacher and team leader?
My Department Chair shared an interesting article with me recently that speaks to the strain, pain, and pressure we, as teachers, continually put on our vocal cords, which can have damaging and long term negative effects to our health. For example, my Department Chair, who is a dear friend, colleague, and master teacher of over 20 years, has always sung every week with her church choir and very much enjoyed it. Last month, she had to abruptly leave the choir, as it was too much for her voice to handle after so many years of teaching. How devastating! I cannot imagine never being able to sing with a group again; it would be an enormous gap and loss in my life.
Read on to discover how her story is not typical and how YOU can avoid long-term damaging effects on your voice:
How to Mend a Broken Voice
"A classic voice patient is someone who uses their vocal cords so much that they’ve developed a lesion on them that gets in the way of good vocalization," explains Akst, a laryngologist. And schoolteachers are especially subject to such injuries. It’s a population—along with the marketers and lawyers and other highly vocal professionals—that Akst plans to treat as he takes the helm of the Johns Hopkins’ Division of Laryngology. Most importantly, however, he wants to grow the division and the breadth of services it offers. And he’s primed to do exactly that.
Akst, who specializes in voice and swallowing problems, joined Hopkins from Chicago’s Loyola University Hospital, where, as director of laryngology, he helped establish a center for voice and esophageal disorders. Now he’s doing the same here, joining together with current otolaryngology faculty and staff and bringing them all under the umbrella of the newly established Johns Hopkins Voice Center, in the outpatient center of the hospital’s East Baltimore campus.
"We really want to expand the variety of specialty services we’re offering patients with these issues," Akst says. Those patients tend to have one major thing in common: They must frequently use—and sometimes strain—their vocal cords.
"Teachers are particularly high risk because they’re constantly talking and projecting their voices to the classroom, and they’re unable to rest their voices when they’re feeling tired or hoarse," Akst says. "They have to keep pushing through in order to communicate with their students."
Over time, he continues, their voices—and those of others in vocally demanding jobs—just give out.
Fortunately, he says, most patients with voice complaints can be helped, especially if diagnosis is early and accurate. Patients with phonotraumatic lesions such as nodules, polyps, and cysts can benefit from voice therapy and also surgery. Patients with growths on their vocal cords, like cancer or papilloma, can benefit from surgery as well, often through procedures that use advanced pulsed laser technologies to help preserve voice. For patients with vocal cord paralysis, there are medialization procedures and also injections that can help restore voice.
"There’s always something we can do," Akst says. "We can always make someone at least a little bit better." Lauren Manfuso