“Music is the greatest communication in the world. Even if people don't understand the language that you're singing in, they still know good music when they hear it.” - Lou Rawls
Losing your voice, going hoarse, coughing, a sore throat, irritation or inflammation of the larynx, etc. are the bane of a singer’s existence and could cost them their career. Much like how an athlete will warm up and see physicians and physios to take care of their body so they can perform to the best of their abilities, a singer also needs to take care of their voice both through training and in some cases, medical intervention.
In recent years, the number of people who sing for a living has increased but that doesn’t mean that the arts have grown as quickly as other vocations.
Generally, the more people there are doing a certain job, the more supply there is and the less they’ll earn. Singing is a risky business.
When you’re a singer, you must take care of your vocal cords so that you can stay in the game. ENT and speech pathologists are there to keep you from losing your voice.
In this article, we'll be looking at what a speech pathologist does, when you should visit them, the symptoms you should look out for, and what ENT specialists do.
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What’s a Speech Pathologist?
Are you familiar with speech pathology?
This is a specialist focusing on speech, language, and communication. They deal with voice, speaking, language, and problems with swallowing or hearing. These are healthcare professionals who can check their patient’s vocal health, diagnose maladies, suggest treatments, and evaluate the effectiveness of the treatments.
A speech pathologist has an understanding of the physical and cognitive components that are used in producing sound with your voice. They may even suggest surgical intervention for certain conditions.
They specialise in everything that’s going on in the throat and vocal cords as well as your mind.
They could help you with certain symptoms.
- Vocal fatigue
- Aphonia and Dysphonia
- Vocal problems
- Voice loss
- Sore throats or throat cancer
- Vocal cord alteration
- Chronic coughing or a broken voice
Depending on the severity of your condition, they may suggest visiting an ENT specialist if further medical intervention is required.
They may suggest natural remedies for milder conditions like eucalyptus pastels, lemon juice, herbal teas, essential oils, etc. for more minor conditions.
Find out more about training your voice.
When Should You Visit a Speech Pathologist
Those suffering from regular hoarseness or speech problems might want to consider visiting a speech pathologist.
For example, a singing tutor might suggest that you visit a speech pathologist if they notice certain problems in speech productions. We don’t often think about it, but singing regularly can lead to inflammation, sore throats, etc. and advice from a professional can help you avoid them in the future.
Several maladies are linked with speech; some are caused by singing and others will hinder your singing. The thing they have in common is that many of them won’t go away on their own.
So who should see a speech pathologist?
Singers, actors, teachers, and anyone who uses their voice regularly as part of their job. Those who strain their voice at work may find that they have vocal issues that they didn’t even know about.
You should consider seeing a speech pathologist if you have any of the following:
- Vocal fatigue
- Difficulty raising your voice
- Difficulty reaching high notes
- Laryngeal pain
- Swelling in the throat
- Scratchy throat
- Inflammation or irritation of the throat
- A change in your vocal timbre
Smokers, especially those who sing, should consider seeing a pathologist. They’ll probably remind you of the risks of smoking and the effects tobacco will have on your voice and throat.
If you lose your voice over a week, you should definitely see a medical professional.
What Symptoms Require Intervention from a Pathologist
When it comes to problems with your throat larynx, airways, lungs, many parts of your body can affect your voice and may require medical or clinical intervention.
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If you’re having problems with your voice over a week, you should consider visiting a pathologist or ENT specialist.
Laryngoscopy is a way for doctors to look at your vocal cords by wearing a light source on their forehead and placing a mirror at the back of your throat.
The best ways to fix dysphonia is to stop smoking and reduce your alcohol consumption. Resting your vocal cords is also a good way to recover.
But how can you do this if you regularly use your voice as part of your work?
Here’s some advice that medical professionals suggest:
- Do abdominal breathing exercises to control your stress
- Humidify the air with an air humidifier so that your throat doesn’t dry out
- Don’t shout
These are particularly useful if you’re suffering from hoarseness.
What about if your conditions are worse than that?
If you have a more severe condition affecting your vocal cords (nodules, polyps, granuloma). Speech therapy is useful for recovering from conditions and vocal injuries. For more severe cases, microsurgery may be necessary. Others may suffer from vocal paralysis. Speech therapy may help you fix your voice and increase the effectiveness of coughing (whose role is to protect the airways from irritants).
Learn more about avoiding vocal cord injury.
How Does Seeing a Speech Pathologist or ENT Specialist Work?
To find the cause of a patient’s problems, a specialist will use a certain number of tools.
Several special tools are used to analyse your voice:
- Flexible fibrescope
- A computer
A laryngoscope is used to see the back of the throat with the naked eye.
An endoscope is a camera used to film the inside of the human body, especially the throat and larynx.
The flexible fibrescope is inserted into the nostril and descends into the throat.
The pharyngoscope records the movements of the vocal cords from the mouth.
Check out our tips for looking after your voice.
Visiting a Specialist
Like with other clinicians and doctors, you’ll probably have an examination before a diagnosis.
Generally, one consultation will probably be enough for a diagnosis of most conditions. While you can see a doctor for free on the NHS, going private may be a necessity for certain urgent cases, especially if your job relies on it.
If you need to fix your voice, do breathing exercises, fix your posture, or have some issues with your voice, seeking help from a specialist is an excellent idea.
Don’t forget that you can ask your singing tutor or teacher first before you see a medical professional. After all, singing teachers are also familiar with common voice issues. They’ll be familiar with the muscle groups and organs responsible for producing your voice such as the stomach, abs, and vocal cords. Most singing teachers will have an understanding of some speech pathology.
If you want to work on your voice and improve your singing, you might want to consider getting a vocal coach or private tutor on Superprof. They can help you improve your singing, take care of your voice, and provide bespoke singing tuition. There are three main types of tutorials on offer and each one comes with some advantages and disadvantages.
Face-to-face private tutorials are just between you and your tutor. The sessions will be tailored to you, your needs, and your strengths and weaknesses. Of course, since the tutor will be dedicating a lot of time to you and your tutorials as well as tailoring them to your needs, this type of tutorial tends to be the most costly. However, they're also the most cost-effective.
Thanks to the internet, webcams, and video conferencing software, you can also get online tutorials. Again, these tutorials are just between you and the tutor with the main difference being that you're not in the same room. With fewer travel expenses and the ability to schedule more tutorials each week, the tutor can charge a more competitive rate for these tutorials.
Finally, there are group tutorials. These are more like your traditional classes with several students and one teacher. The cost of the tutor's time is shared between all the students in the class so you can expect to pay less per hour for these tutorials. Unfortunately, this means the tutor can't spend as much time focusing on you and your singing.