Voice misuse

This occurs in people who overuse their voice, e.g. shouting or screaming (as done by children). Actors, sports coaches and teachers are also prone to this problem.

Sports coaches are prone to straining their voice as they often shout their instructions and in all types of weathers. Teachers as well suffer from this problem when they raise their voice in a crowded classroom.

Actors can also experience this is they are playing a role in which they have to engage in prolonged bouts of shouting or screaming, often for several days.

Another high risk group is football fans. Shouting during a football match is an integral part of the experience but too much of this puts a strain on the vocal cords. This causes them to become inflamed and in the long term, can result in the growth of throat polyps.

Shouting or screaming in situations such as these also causes a sore throat and a hoarse voice.

Vocal cords

The vocal cords are an ingenious part of our anatomy in that they enable us to produce sounds, such as screaming or roaring, as well as speech. The vocal cords consist of two thin folds of muscle – similar to a pair of blinds. They remain apart at rest and move together when sound or speech is produced.

As air passes through them they vibrate which causes sounds to be produced.

Find out more about the vocal cords in our throat anatomy section.

Like any part of the body the vocal cords are susceptible to misuse. If they are put under strain, such as screaming, then this misuse will cause them to become sore and inflamed.

A good example of this is if you have had to shout to make yourself heard whilst in a nightclub. The next day your voice is hoarse and you have a sore throat as well. This form of voice misuse is usually temporary and resolves itself after a day.

Long term effects of voice misuse

The example mentioned above is a short term form of voice misuse but if you shout, scream or raise your voice to a high pitch on a regular basis then it will lead to long term problems.

This constant strain on the vocal cords causes swellings, such as vocal cord nodules or throat polyps to form. Throat polyps are a common problem for singers especially those who try and reach the top notes or out of their range.

Treating voice misuse

The first step is to rest the vocal cords before looking at ways of preventing this from re-occurring and leading to long term damage.

Children who scream or shout can be encouraged not to do so (or not very often!) but this is problematic for adults who use their voice to earn a living.

The solution is to rest the voice as often as possible. So a sports coach may look at resting his/her voice in between coaching sessions and reducing the amount of times he/she has to raise his/her voice.

This equally applies to teachers. If you are a teacher who has experienced voice problems as a result of shouting in a noise classroom then it is difficult to avoid doing so. If possible try and reduce the amount of times you have to do so and give your voice a rest.

Actors will benefit from advice given by a voice coach who will suggest that they rest their voice when not on set or stage. They will suggest ways in which the actor can scream or shout with the minimum of damage to their voice and to warm up their voice beforehand.

This is discussed in more detail in the section aimed at professional speakers and singers.

We all have overused our voice at some point or other but without any ill effects. However, prolonged or excessive misuse will lead to problems later on.

Our voice is a delicate instrument which requires care and attention to prevent any long term damage.

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