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Vocal Misuse and Overuse

Slawleyubmitted to Common Times by Mark Lawley, SWACDA President-Elect

The following material is provided courtesy of Amy Clift, Springfield, MO, Speech Pathologist

What is vocal misuse?
Vocal misuse causes vocal folds to be injured. Destructive behaviors can lead to vocal fold lesions (bumps or calluses on the vocal folds), and in some causes can cause permanent damage to the voice.

Examples include:

  • Yelling, screaming and hollering (including coaching or cheering at athletic events)
  • Throat clearing and coughing
  • Loud talking
  • Talking in noisy situations (restaurants, bars, parties, social settings, around equipment)
  • Whispering
  • Singing without warming up and cooling down the voice

What is vocal overuse?
Vocal overuse is using the voice too much, so that is gets overly tired. This can lead to an increased risk of vocal fold injury.

If your voice feels tired or gives out easily, you may be overusing your voice. Examples of overuse include talking and/or singing for too long.

How can these behaviors hurt my voice?
The vocal folds are made up of layers of delicate tissue. When you use your voice to make a sound, the vocal folds vibrate. If they vibrate in an easy, gentle way the voice works well, but if the vocal folds come together in a hard or forceful way, they can be injured.

It's like clapping your hands. If you clap them softly, you make a sound and your hands don't hurt. If you clap them hard, they will start to tingle and then hurt, and will become red and irritated. If you continue hard clapping, you might get blisters on your hands.

Yelling, screaming, throat clearing, coughing, and even loud talking can all bring the vocal folds together in a hard and forceful way and can cause vocal fold injury.

Talking a lot can also hurt your vocal folds. Your vocal folds come together about 100-200 times per second when you are talking. That can add up to millions of times per day if you are talking for many hours.

All that contact can cause wear and tear on your vocal folds. If they don't get a chance to rest and recover, they can become injured over time. Many styles of singing bring the vocal folds together in a forceful way, too.

Athletes and dancers carefully warm up their muscles to avoid injuring themselves, and they get lots of training to learn to use their bodies without injuring themselves. Singing is the "athleticism" of voice use. Warming up your voice before singing and getting training in how to sing well can help you avoid injuring your voice.

How can I avoid misusing or overusing my voice?

  • Us a noise maker or gesture to gain someone's attention instead of yelling or screaming.
  • Walk over to the person you want to talk to or have them come to you instead of yelling across the room or from another room.
  • Use easy throat clearing (no sound).
  • Avoice talking in noisy situations. If you are in a noisy situation: Get close to the person to whom you wnat to speak. Put an earplug in one ear so that yhou can monitor how loud your voice is.
  • Use a microphone if you have to speak in a large room or in front of an audience or class.
  • If your job or social setting requires you to use your voice a lot, give yourself "voice breaks" or timnes when yhou don't use your voice for a while to let your voice rest.
  • Avoid speaking in stressful situations or when you are overly tense.
  • Avoid whispering.