Learn about vocal health and the resources you can tap into.
Whether you’re a singer, a teacher of any kind, a parent or someone who regularly conducts meetings, your voice is a tool that helps you effectively communicate. If you’re experiencing voice changes, experts can help with an evaluation and actionable care steps to take care of your voice, restore it and maintain healthy vocal cords and vocal health.
“Care of your voice is for everyone,” said Jenny Muckala, a speech pathologist and voice specialist at the Vanderbilt Voice Center. “This isn’t just for singers. If you have ever had a total laryngitis, you know how immediately and totally devastating it can be that you cannot communicate.”
The importance of vocal health
Regardless of your profession, your voice is part of your identity.
“Our voice reflects our body, our heart and our head,” Muckala said. “It impacts all three areas pretty significantly.”
She asks the following questions to illustrate how important the voice is: Does your voice meet the demands of what you need to do? Can you communicate effectively in your work? Can you have a voice of authority where you need it? Can you have a voice that’s compelling where you need it? And can it last for the length of time you need it?
A voice evaluation
Muckala said most patients come to her after they’ve noticed a change in their voices. She starts by asking patients questions to help understand their concerns. Then the care is highly personalized, depending on a patient’s concerns, needs and current state of health.
“Voice care isn’t cookie-cutter,” she said.
“How do you breathe? How do you get your voice behind that breath? And then how do you project?”
A voice evaluation involves a close look at voice mechanics to help get a patient from where they are to where they need to be. For example, she might see a performer who has been an opening musical act for years but suddenly is now the headliner for a show and must expand from 30 minutes of singing to 90 minutes or more.
“How do you breathe?” she said. “How do you get your voice behind that breath? And then how do you project — those are the mechanics of it.”
If you’re a public speaker, whether in a classroom or at conferences, voice mechanics factor in as well.
“It matters if you can find a pitch that projects, if you can reduce how much you’re pressing with your throat,” Muckala said.
Part of the solution may involve getting access at your workplace to amplification aids.
Personalizing care for each voice
In Muckala’s world, here’s how personalized treatment plans take shape.
“On a first visit, a patient will be seen by one of the laryngologists, an otolaryngologist who has sought an additional year of training in just voice care, as well as one of our voice speech-language pathologists,” Muckala said.
The speech pathologist will look at the individual’s vocal folds using stroboscope, a specialized light-and-camera combination that allows the team to see exactly what is going on with the individual’s voice.
“With this information, we can decide together with the patient what plan of action would help the individual to return to function,” Muckala said.
She said patients often express the feeling that their voice has betrayed them when there’s been a sudden change. So one goal of the Vanderbilt Voice Center is to help people not only get back to trusting their voice but to also help them understand what they can do for their vocal health going forward.
A personalized approach to voice care
The Vanderbilt Voice Center is a nationally known, multidisciplinary outpatient care center where expert laryngologists, voice speech-language pathologists and singing voice specialists all work together to help patients overcome issues with their voices.