Speech-Language Pathologists Say We Are Straining Our Voices to Maintain Voice Loudness

It is the time of the year for New Year’s Resolutions and that includes this important message from the state’s association of speech language pathologists: Rest your voice.

For those who have worked in retail over the holiday season – or have other occupations that require constant speaking throughout the day – the wearing of a mask has had an impact.

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According to the New Jersey Speech-Language-Hearing Association (NJSHA), professionals who use their voice to make a living – such as teachers or customer service representatives – can experience vocal discomfort or strain throughout their career. And if they are now speaking through a mask or a shield, the issue can be exacerbated.

“There are a lot of workers these days who are speaking throughout the day without any vocal rest,” said Kathleen Palatucci, a NJSHA member.  “This ongoing strain, or overuse, can cause damage to the vocal cords as they talk using a louder volume behind a mask for long periods of time.”

NJSHA members, comprising both speech-language pathologists and audiologists, explain that people average 50 to 60 decibels of “loudness” when they speak to be easily heard by others.  A mask mutes their voices by five to 20 decibels. If an individual wears a mask and a shield, up to 30 decibels of sound can be taken away.  “That means a great deal of sound can be lost” Kathleen Palatucci said. “And that requires us all to speak louder to be heard, which is causing many to become hoarse or even lose their voice by the end of the work day.”

NJSHA members say the problem may be reduced significantly by some simple measures such as drinking water throughout the day and taking voice breaks, or voice rests [e.g. 10 minutes without talking].  Some other recommendations include:

  • Pay attention to relaxing your muscles. Drop your shoulders and unclench your jaw, which allows you to relax and minimize strain as you project through your mask.

  • Use your stomach muscles to project your voice by taking deep breaths before speaking. This reduces the need to force your voice from your throat.

  • Speak in shorter sentences, so that you are limiting the amount of strain on the voice and allow for more time to breathe between sentences.

  • Remember to warm up just like a singer. Warm up your breathing by taking full, slow breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth 5-10 times. Humming several scales as you drive to work will also help to get the blood flowing.  A rock band needs to prepare for a two-hour show, why shouldn’t you prepare for an eight-hour shift in front of a classroom, or patients, or customers, or on Zoom?

  • Watch your diet. Fatty or spicy foods and caffeine are acidic and can cause reflux which may irritate the throat and voice box.

  • And lastly, don’t speak over noise. Only you can take care of your voice.  IT’s the only one you have!

  • For more information on this topic please visit njsha.org

If hoarseness, vocal discomfort or pain persists for more than six weeks, it is important to check in with your physician.