People with voice problems can face highly challenging symptoms that may include hoarseness, pain, a strained voice and vocal fatigue. These too frequently lead to isolation, career difficulties and various mental health problems. Crucially, one’s identity – something that voice is so integral to – can be significantly undermined.
However, there is much that can be done to help manage both the physical and mental effects of a voice problem either in order to improve or cure the condition or learn to deal live with it more successfully.
Before we get on to some things you can do, it may be useful to check out a video attendees at one of our support groups made on the challenges of voice problems and things others can do to help...
Dim lights Embed Embed this video on your site
Know that there are things YOU and OTHERS (eg. your employer, your friends) can do to help with your voice problem.
Look After Your Voice
- Keep your throat moist by drinking plenty of water. Always have a bottle of water to hand.
- Chewing a non-mint based gum often (particularly bicarbonate of soda ones) may help by generating saliva and relaxing the muscles around the throat through the repetitious movement. It may also help with reflux (flow of stomach acid/contents) into the larynx.
- Steam is great for calming the larynx.
- Avoid throat clearing – drink a sip of water every time you feel the urge.
For more information on voice care tips, check out the following links:
Support from Those Around You
Voice Assistance Equipment
Some people with voice problems are likely to already use some kind of voice assistance equipment, eg. laryngectomees may use an electrolarynx.
People who suffer with voice strain, voice fatigue or a quiet voice may find using a portable voice amplifier helpful. See our reviews of voice assistance equipment.
A steamer may also help to reduce throat inflammation. We have yet to find a good portable steamer – although we are on the case – in the meantime, a kettle and a bowl of plain water will do.
Choose Voice Friendly Options
Socialising is obviously an important part of a full life. However, noisy pubs, restaurants and bars can be challenging places for someone with a voice problem. See our On the QT guide for general tips on socialising with a voice problem as well as reviews of voice friendly venues.
It is important for your employer to understand the precise nature of your voice problem. Please do direct them to our working with a voice problem section so they can understand what they can do to enable you at work. Also have a look over the section yourself.
Your employer has a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments to help employees with long term voice problems. Even if your voice problem is not long term and you are therefore unable to claim protection under disability discrimination laws, employers still have a legal duty not to put your health at risk. This may mean taking steps to prevent your job causing you further voice problems or a worsening in your condition.
Do you have reflux? Reflux is where acid/stomach contents come up the food pipe (esophagus). If it reaches the throat, it is known as laryngopharyngeal reflux, or LPR for short. This can cause various symptoms such as hoarseness, throat pain/discomfort, a lump in the throat feeling and a chronic cough.
It is important to control reflux if you do have it to avoid harm to the larynx and voice problems.
Treatment with medication known as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), such as omeprazol, is a typical and often successful response. This medication reduces the production of stomach acid.
For people who still have reflux symptoms after treatment by PPIs, alkaline (i.e. non-acid reflux) may be occurring. Regular use of a suspension remedy like Gaviscon Advance may help to prevent stomach contents moving up the food pipe (esophagus). Lifestyle adjustments – such as elevating the head of your bed – are also recommended.
Surgery may also provide a solution to persistent reflux.
For more detail on symptoms, diagnosis and treatment, see: www.voiceproblem.org/disorders/reflux
If you suffer from chronic pain relating to your voice problem, you should visit your GP. It may be that the pain will be relieved by treatment of the underlying voice problem (see above). However, if pain is something you will have to manage long term, you should speak to your GP about different pain management options, e.g. medication and counselling (particularly cognitive behavioural therapy).
If initial treatment by your GP is not sufficient, you are likely to find that your local health trust area has specialist services for pain management such as pain management programmes and pain clinics. Your GP may be able to refer you.
New to Voice Problems? Support from Voice Professionals
If you find yourself suffering from on-going voice problems, such as regular hoarseness, you should see your GP and depending on what they say, get referred to an Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) consultant, ideally a laryngologist (an ENT consultant specialising in the voice). The recommendation is generally if you have experienced unexplained hoarseness/voice loss/voice problems for 2-3 weeks, you should see a voice specialist.
GPs are not always that aware of voice problems and so you may want to do some of your own research. See www.voiceproblem.org which contains useful explanations of the symptoms of different voice disorders. Also check out their symptom tree: www.voiceproblem.org/symptomtree/
In the UK, you can request to go to one of these specialised voice clinics.
If a voice problem is diagnosed, there may be a number of treatment options including medication and speech therapy. In some cases surgery may be recommended.
If you are referred to a speech therapist, you should if possible try to see one trained in voice. Voice is a separate specialism within speech therapy and techniques are quite specialised.
Want a professional's perspective? Have a look at this very useful article from the British Voice Association