This is the first article in a three-part series on voice disorders.
One of the most common questions an adult hears is, “What do you do?” When I answer, “I’m a speech-language pathologist.”, most people pause for a second, then respond with one of two answers: “Oh, so you work on /r/.” or, “Oh, like The King’s Speech?” Both of those are true- many speech-language pathologists work with articulation, where they teach individuals how to make sounds accurately. We’ve all heard Elmer Fudd in the Bugs Bunny cartoons with his “you wascally wabbit.” Speech –language pathologists (SLP) also work with individuals who stutter. However, another aspect of a speech-language pathologist’s training is also to work with people with voice disorders. HUH?!? First, what is a voice disorder, and why would an SLP work on that?
Let’s talk about the easy part first. SLPs are experts in the anatomy and physiology of the vocal tract. We have a thorough understanding of how the vocal folds move, how the muscles work, and ways to change these patterns to help a person achieve the best voice possible. When we produce our voice, air travels from our lungs and passes through two vocal folds. These vocal folds begin moving and vibrating, and we have a “voice”. If one or both of the vocal folds are not moving properly, then a person may have a voice disorder. A voice disorder sounds different for each person, and may depend on the underlying cause. For instance, some people may sound breathy or hoarse, like they have a cold. Some people may notice that the pitch of their voice drops. Others may find that their voice becomes “tired” or keeps cracking/breaking when they talk (ASHA, 1993; ASHA, 2005).
An estimated 3% to 7% of the general population in the United States has a voice disorder. This number increases to 5% to 10% when only individuals who are “heavy” voice users are considered (ASHA, 2005). Heavy voice users include teachers, pastors, public speakers, and musicians, among others. While 5% to 10% does not seem like a large number, the expense of a voice disorder is. In the United States, it is estimated that the cost of a voice disorder in teachers only is close to 2.67 billion dollars yearly (ASHA, 2005). So what can a person with a voice disorder do? This blog series will examine the journey a person with a voice disorder takes, with an emphasis on the role of the speech –language pathologist.
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (2005). The use of voice therapy in the treatment of dysphonia [Technical Report]. Available from www.asha.org/policy.
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (1993). Definitions of communication disorders and variations [Relevant Paper]. Available from www.asha.org/policy.