Word on Health

Word on Occupational Voice Disorders

Our grateful thanks to the British Voice Association for their input to this week's report and for the use of the information below.

What is an Occupational Voice Disorder?  It is what develops as a result of the amount or type of voice use required to do your job. It may also be related to vocal irritants in the work environment or a combination of these factors. For example, teachers have to speak for hours every day in noisy classrooms, tour guides may be exposed to traffic noise and fumes, or call centre workers who may have to speak for long periods loudly against background noise and with air conditioning drying their vocal folds.

What is an occupational voice user?  It is any person who relies on their voice directly or indirectly to carry out their work. Professions that depend directly on voice use include teachers, call centre workers, actors, and singers. Professions relying indirectly on voice use might include lawyers, salesmen, doctors, or administrators.

What aspects of work can affect your voice?

• The amount of voice use

• Noise in the workplace

• Room acoustics: Some rooms absorb noise so voices do not carry

• The distance between the speaker and the listener

• Screens between the speaker and the listener

• Air quality - dust, smoke fumes or air conditioning.

• Intercoms/ two-way radios

Not all voice disorders are related to the workplace They may be caused by infections, injuries, cysts/scars, medicines or underlying medical conditions. However, a hoarse voice will still impact on your working life, making you less able to cope with voice use or making you more vulnerable to atmospheric irritants and noise.

Emotion, work & voice Stressful situations,  such as dealing with complaints, fear of losing your job or strained relationships with colleagues can all add strain to your voice production making the voice problem worse.

Seek medical help If you are worried about your voice seek help from your GP. The GP can identify and deal with many of the contributing factors in your voice disorder. They can also refer you to an ENT surgeon for an examination of your voice. If speech therapy is offered, attend the sessions and practice the work suggested by the therapist, as directed.

The multi-disciplinary voice clinic  If the voice problem does not respond to the treatment you have been given you can ask to be referred to a voice clinic. The voice clinic can provide a detailed assessment of your voice using digital stroboscopy and plan appropriate multi-disciplinary management accordingly.  A list of NHS clinics are available on the British Voice Association website

Self-help measures

Reduce contributory factors Get help to give up smoking (if of course, you do smoke). Make sure health problems such as acid reflux are treated. Keep to the management plan provided. Take any prescribed medications as directed and complete the full course. Reduce voice use in your social life. Choose quiet venues and give yourself time to rest your voice.

Reduce voice use at work  Keep voice use to a minimum at work. Use emails instead of phones where possible. Ask colleagues to share phone work, meetings, and presentations where this can be arranged. Use personal amplification when appropriate.

Presentations Use amplification whenever possible. Suggest meetings are held in quiet rooms with a good acoustic. Ask your audience to move closer. Make use of materials with an auditory commentary so you can rest your voice.

Hydration Voices work best when they are moist. Make sure you drink plenty of water during the day. Be aware of the drying effect of air-conditioning and open windows more often when possible. Consider investing in a portable steamer and inhale steam during work breaks.

Atmospheric irritants Use any protective masks provided. Make sure the workplace is well ventilated and that extractor fans are turned on. Report any that are faulty.

Listen to this weeks radio report

All material on this website is provided for your information only and may not be construed as medical advice or instruction. No action or inaction should be taken based solely on the contents of this information; instead, readers should consult appropriate health professionals on any matter relating to their health and well-being.