Your voice is trying to tell you something — if you’d only listen!

U-M vocal health doctor gives tips for World Voice Day & beyond

Your voice is trying to tell you something

What is your voice telling you?

Most of us don’t give our voices a second thought, even though we use them every day to talk, sing, shout, laugh, hum or scream.

But Norman Hogikyan, M.D., spends every day thinking about voices: those of his patients.

As director of the U-M Vocal Health Center, he treats everyone from teachers to opera singers for ailments that affect their speaking and singing ability. Too many people abuse their voices, he says, or fail to recognize changes in their voice that actually signal some greater danger.

This week, in honor of World Voice Day, he offers top tips and other information to help us all get educated about vocal health.

Q: Where does our voice come from, anyway? 

A: The sound-producing structures in your voice box (larynx) are the vocal folds (also called vocal cords). These remarkable little parts of your anatomy vibrate many times a second to produce sounds that are then shaped by other portions of the throat, mouth, and nose into what we know as speech or song.

Here’s a video of my larynx in action:

Q: What can cause changes in your voice?

A: Many of us get laryngitis from time to time, as a symptom of a viral infection or simply by shouting for a long time at a loud concert or sports event. But the kinds of changes we worry about are more severe and prolonged.

For instance, hoarseness that is persistent, difficulty in producing a clear speaking or singing tone, loss of ability to project your voice, a reduced vocal range, or discomfort when you speak.

Those are the kinds of things you should have checked out by an ear, nose and throat doctor, also called an otolaryngologist.

Q: When should you seek help and why?

A: If a change in your voice lasts for more than a few days, you should see a primary care physician.  If it lasts for more than two weeks, you should reach out to an otolaryngologist. Some changes can be early signs of vocal fold cancer, or of other significant problems in the larynx or voice box. .

The earlier you act, the more effective we can be with treatment.

Q: What can you do to protect your voice?  

A: Not smoking. Keeping yourself well-hydrated with water and  non-caffeinated drinks. Not screaming or shouting often or at all. Using a microphone or megaphone if you need to project your voice. Taking a vocal recess if you have laryngitis — resting your voice will help it to heal.

Q: Can you learn to make your voice sound better?

A: The answer is a resounding yes! There is no doubt that voice quality impacts effectiveness of communication and how others see us. Even in a contemporary society that is actively engaged with social media, texting, and tweeting, first impressions may be based purely upon our voice. Make a recording of your own voice and listen to it by yourself or with colleagues and friends. What does it tell you? If you don’t like what you hear, you may want to be evaluated at a voice care center.

Vocal health specialists can determine if there is anything wrong with your larynx itself, or if you are just not producing your voice optimally. Treatment can be tailored to your specific voice issues and results can be remarkable.

Q: With so many other ways to communicate these days, do voices matter as much?

A: There is no question that communication with the human voice has become more important in this age where there is widespread access to instant transfer of text, data, or images. The vast volume of information transferred via social media has so diluted the quality of most communications that the clarity and expressiveness of the human voice have in many ways become a welcome respite.

I am also certain everyone has had the experience of needing a good “old fashioned” conversation to relieve tension or conflict generated by a misunderstanding via email, text, or post.

And of course, there will never be a substitute for the beauty of the human singing voice.

Q: Who especially needs to protect their voice?

A: So many professionals, from teachers, singers and radio hosts to business people and people who work at call centers and retail stores, rely on their voices for their livelihoods. But few of them think about their vocal health, including warming up their voice before starting a long bout of using their voice.

This year’s World Voice Day theme, “Educate Your Voice”, is an important reminder of how vital the voice is to educators of all types, and to their students.

Whether the classroom is traditional or virtual, live or recorded, it is difficult to imagine truly effective exchanges of information and ideas without voice. Teachers are perhaps the finest example of speaking vocal professionals, and even a minor voice problem can have a large influence upon the classroom. It is important for teachers, other occupatio

nal voice users, and for all of us that we take steps to maintain our vocal health.

World Voice Day

Click the image to learn more about the concert

Q: How are you celebrating World Voice Day?

A: I’m really excited about a free concert we’re holding on campus on April 16 at 7 p.m.. It will feature students and professors from the U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance, and will be one of hundreds of events worldwide in honor of World Voice Day.

Every year, the awareness grows – we’re really raising our voices about voices, you might say.

 Take the next step:

new_logos_180x1806For more than 160 years, the University of Michigan Health System has been a national leader in advanced patient care, innovative research to improve human health and comprehensive education of physicians and medical scientists. The three U-M hospitals have been recognized numerous times for excellence in patient care, including a #1 ranking in Michigan and national rankings in many specialty areas by U.S. News & World Report.