I’ve become aware of changes in my speaking voice and need to clear my throat frequently. I’m a teacher and speak a lot, and this voice change has become more obvious because of the lengthy teleteaching over the Internet. Is this voice change a dangerous sign? Can vocal changes be corrected and prevented?
Several conditions may be associated with voice changes. Allergies, excessive mucus production, and throat infections (viral or bacterial) may result in temporary hoarseness or voice loss. Certain blood pressure medications (ACE inhibitors and ARBs)¹ may be associated with a persistent cough and the feeling that one needs to clear the throat. Insufficient thyroid hormone production (hypothyroidism) may result in hoarseness and voice change. The use of tobacco in all forms may result in cancer of the throat and larynx (voice box), with hoarseness being an early symptom.
Overuse of the voice through excessive cheering, singing, or shouting may result in hoarseness. Singers and actors who project their voices over prolonged periods may experience swelling of the vocal cords with changes in voice quality that require prolonged periods of voice rest. Gastroesophageal reflux (acidity) may be associated with change in voice quality. Neurological conditions such as stroke and movement disorders, including Parkinson’s disease, may affect the voice. Laryngeal nerve injury or damage through trauma, thyroid surgery, or diseases near the larynx affect phonation.
Voice changes may indicate the presence of a potentially dangerous health condition, even malignancy. Unexplained hoarseness or voice change should be evaluated—usually by an ear, nose, and throat specialist physician—and the vocal cords visualized.
Vocal changes may be prevented. Practice these “voice hygiene” tips—a health emphasis seldom discussed:
■ Avoid tobacco in all forms, including secondhand smoke.
■ Avoid alcohol and caffeine, which cause dehydration (among other negative health effects).
■Avoid spicy foods.
■Drink plenty of pure water.
■Learn and cultivate abdominal/ diaphragmatic breathing, which allows more efficient speech production, resulting in less strain on the voice.
■ Avoid shouting, speaking across the room, or speaking over loud noise.
These habits make sense and correlate with the benefits of the amazingly up-todate health message encapsulated in the writings of Ellen White:
“The proper use of the vocal organs will bring benefit to the physical health. . . . [We should] expand the chest, and strengthen the muscles. Let the abdominal muscles have full play. . . . Taking in full breath, let the burden of your words come from this foundation, supported by abdominal breathing” [and by] “following health principles in regard to the expansion of the lungs and the culture of the voice.”²
We share with you this encouragement: “The power of speech is a talent that should be diligently cultivated. Of all the gifts we have received from God, none is capable of being a greater blessing than this. With the voice we convince and persuade, with it we offer prayer and praise to God, and with it we tell others of the Redeemer’s love. How important, then, that it be so trained as to be most effective for good.”³
¹ ACE inhibitors: angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, such as captopril or enalapril. ARBs: angiotensin receptor blockers, such as valsartan or losartan. ² Ellen G. White, Christian Education (Battle Creek, Mich.: International Tract Society, 1893), p. 132. ³ Ellen G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1900, 1941), p. 335.
Peter N. Landless, a board-certified nuclear cardiologist, is director of Adventist Health Ministries at the General Conference.
Zeno L. Charles-Marcel, a board-certified internist, is an associate director of Adventist Health Ministries at the General Conference.