A voice disorder is when your voice doesn’t sound or feel like your normal voice.
It is also when your voice sounds different from other people the same age, gender, and cultural background as you.
Voice disorders can usually be well managed and sometimes completely cured.
About voice disorders
A voice disorder is when the quality, pitch and loudness of your voice is different from your ‘usual’ voice.
Your voice might also be inappropriate for your age, gender, or cultural background.
When you have a voice disorder, people might find it hard to hear or understand you.
Other signs of voice disorder include:
- vocal fatigue and reduced vocal stamina.
- discomfort or pain in the throat during or after you use your voice.
- difficulty projecting your voice.
- periods of voice loss that are unrelated to illness.
Anyone can develop a voice disorder, regardless of age or gender.
People who use their voice for work
People who use their voice for work are called occupational voice users.
If you are an occupational voice user, like a teacher, lawyer or salesperson, a voice disorder can have a big impact on your life. You might need to take time off work until you get better.
If you are an actor, singer or performer, you might not be able to work at all.
The economic cost of voice disorders among teachers alone is estimated to be more than $60 million a year in Australia.
How voice disorders affect your life
Having a voice disorder can make it difficult to socialise. This is especially hard in groups or in noisy places like restaurants and pubs.
Long conversations can tire you out and make you feel physically uncomfortable.
Sometimes having a voice disorder means losing friendships and feeling isolated, lonely and depressed.
When your voice is unclear (rough, breathy, hoarse, or raspy), people can find it harder to understand you.
Vocal fatigue is when your voice gets tired, and it is more and more difficult to make sounds the longer you talk.
Sometimes, you might also feel discomfort or a sense of muscular strain, tightness, or a lump in your throat, which may even become painful with continued use.
Sense of self
If you have a voice disorder, it can affect how people perceive your personality traits, gender, social or educational background. It can also affect how you see yourself.
For example, you may be perceived as being more masculine if the pitch of your voice lowers, or perceived as more passive if your voice is softer and higher pitched.
Using your voice is an essential part of many jobs. Having a voice disorder can affect your work, performance, attendance, and financial security.
Quality of life
All of these factors can affect your quality of life.
Symptoms of voice disorder
You may have a voice disorder if you have symptoms of vocal discomfort, pitch, volume or sound changes either:
- after cold or flu symptoms have resolved
- 2 weeks following a period of excessive use, or
- emerging without explanation or co-occurring illness.
You should see your GP for referral to an ear nose and throat specialist (ENT) or speech pathologist who works with people with voice disorders.
You will need an examination using a special camera (called a laryngostroboscopy), as well as an assessment of your voice.
Managing a voice disorder
Usually, there is a team of professionals to help you manage a voice disorder. This includes a speech pathologist, ENT, and your GP.
Depending on your diagnosis, you may have voice therapy, including:
- attending sessions with a speech pathologist to learn new awareness and voice skills.
- learning behaviours that help your voice to recover.
- reducing voice use temporarily.
- lifestyle changes to manage medical conditions that can make a voice disorder worse (for example, reflux, post-nasal drip, and allergies)
- post-surgical rehabilitation, including voice rest and voice exercises.
Occupational voice users might need to make changes in their workplace or role to make sure they don’t have ongoing problems. You may need to access Workcover schemes and employee support programs.
For some voice disorders, surgery and/or medication may be required.
Most people with a voice disorder can reduce or eliminate their symptoms completely and return to their previous quality of life.
Find out more:
Australian Voice Association: https://australianvoiceassociation.com.au
Australian Dysphonia Network: https://australiandysphonianetwork.org
American Speech Hearing Language Association: https://www.asha.org/practice-portal/clinical-topics/voice-disorders/