How worried should I be about my voice?
October 3, 2014 6:51 PM   Subscribe

How worried should I be that I'm losing my voice? My voice started sounding crackly and husky on Monday and has got worse and worse over the week. I am a personal trainer and singer, so I rely on my voice. I have no pain and no symptoms of being unwell. Is there anything it could be besides vocal nodules? Should I visit my GP? What should I do?

It's odd to me that this developed after a few days off of work, and 2 weeks after my last band practice. I don't know whether to sit it our or get it checked (and by whom) - it's been 6 days now and definitely gets worse with use eg I went out to dinner in a loud restaurant last night.

I tried singing and can sing low but not high.

I have noticed that my throat usually gets sore and my voice gets croaky when I'm tired, and it has been a long week, but a good night's sleep hasn't helped. It doesn't hurt to swallow and my glands aren't enlarged. I've taken the day off work, what should I do now?
posted by Chrysalis to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Is there any reason not to see a doctor? I would start with your GP, or you could go straight to an ENT because I can't think of any other specialist that would deal with your vocal cords. You could opt to give it another week. Generally, a lot of stuff just goes away on its own after a week or two. After that, I'd go to a doctor if it didn't start to self-resolve. At 6 days, it may just be low-grade laryngitis or something.

I had a friend whose voice was getting raspy and at times would cut out while she was talking, which was annoying. She let it go a couple months until she went to an ENT who found nodules. They didn't remove them, rather she did exercises to control her breathing and talking so her vocal cords didn't rub the nodules. Ever since then, she has been fine and it's required no effort on her part. It could've been something more serious, but going to a doctor was the only way to know and fix it. So if it doesn't start to get better, I would just see a doctor unless there is something preventing you from doing so.
posted by AppleTurnover at 6:58 PM on October 3, 2014

After only a week, I would not jump straight to nodules as a cause, especially if this is the first time this has ever happened. It's not too surprising that you have your low range but not the upper part; pretty common with inflamed vocal folds, in my experience (I've been a classical vocalist for 18 years or so). I've definitely had laryngitis with no other symptoms; I generally assume it's some random viral crud, drink plenty of water, and get on with my life. Rest your voice if you can; if you can't, try to consciously lighten your speaking voice, especially if you're one of those people whose speaking voice is the gravelly, dark, low-in-your-range kind that's hard on the cords.
posted by dorque at 7:08 PM on October 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

This is why the guy invented the Alexander Technique (the guy = F. M. Alexander). You might want to look into that -- it's expensive for lessons, but even one or two lessons could help. Or read about the basic principles; it has to do with making sure your neck and head position (your whole body & spine, really) are not interfering with the functioning of your voice.

Basically, he was an actor who noticed that his voice was going out a lot. He worked with a mirror for a considerable period of time until he figured out that he (for example) was lifting his chin every time he took a big breath to prepare to orate. Other things people do on inhaling -- raising their shoulders -- are also not great, but you can analyze a bit on your own.

The tricky part is noticing what you're doing; the act of watching yourself can (and in all probability will) make you do things differently, which is why having a teacher is so helpful.

Bonus: many people find that the Alexander Technique helps their voices be fuller and stronger. Actors totally love it.
posted by amtho at 7:09 PM on October 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

If it's worse with use, stop talking. No talking, no whispering, no loud restaurants. Don't talk at all for at least 24 hours, and see what happens. Make an appointment to see your doc/get a referral to an ENT, and don't talk or sing.
posted by rtha at 7:25 PM on October 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Is there anything it could be besides vocal nodules?

Just as a point of reassurance, I once had two weeks of laryngitis with no other symptoms and the doctor said it was probably just a funny cold virus. My voice came back exactly the same as before.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 7:32 PM on October 3, 2014

I had something similar happen, and it was apparently acid reflux, though I never had any real feelings of heartburn. The doctor called it "silent reflux".
posted by procrastination at 7:42 PM on October 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just the fact that it began and got significantly worse over a period of a few days suggests against nodules (and more in favor of something like laryngitis). Nodules don't grow quickly.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 7:44 PM on October 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

You haven't been fasting, have you? That happens to my voice sometimes when I eat very lightly for a day.
posted by lakeroon at 9:12 PM on October 3, 2014

I've had viral laryngitis maybe 3 times since 2009 and my god, is it a pain. The last time I got it I increased its severity by whispering and when my ENT saw me he pressed his finger to the little dip at the base of my throat and told me to start talking. The pressure on my vocal chords caused my voice to drop so that it was very deep and rather frog like. That was the only way I could talk for the whole length of being sick -- and between starting that type of talking and drinking a bottle of clover honey, my voice came back much more quickly than normal. It freaked everyone else around me out to hear me speak in my weird devil voice, but it worked so whatever. YMMV.
posted by Hermione Granger at 10:24 PM on October 3, 2014

If it's not back in a few days and it's affecting your job, absolutely go to your gp and ENT doctor, depending on how the system works in your country. Could be an infection that will pass but you don't want to damage your voice or develop bad habits by pushing through it. Google vocal or voice hygeine.

I wouldn't completely stop talking because stopping using any muscle leads to it working less well, but talk gently and don't shout or push. Don't cough or clear your throat, don't whisper. Can you find an alternative to speech at work? Demonstrate rather than describe. Get attention by touch or by clapping not by calling.

I would avoid singing at all unless you are 100% certain that your technique is perfect.

You'll probably be fine in a couple of days!
posted by kadia_a at 9:18 AM on October 4, 2014

The medical professional for voice and speech issues is a speech-language pathologist.

Your work is very voice intensive. If you are misusing your voice in some way that can lead to voice damage in the long term. A speech-language pathologist can help you get to the bottom of it and teach you how to correct any underlying problems.
posted by leueas at 7:01 PM on October 4, 2014

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