Adults may experience voice disorders from overuse of the voice or inadequate vocal hygiene.

Voice difficulties often present as an issue with loudness, voice quality, or rate of speech. Voices that are raspy, strained, breathy, inappropriately low or high, and hoarse may be due to a voice disorder. Voice issues can also lead to a viral infection, physical pain while speaking, loss of voice, or vocalizing consistently. Voice difficulties are especially common in some occupations, including teachers, who find themselves using their voice for long periods of time every day.

Voice disorders can be addressed through regular speech therapy. However, at Silver Linings, we always advise that adults see an ENT with clinical and surgical expertise first to ensure there are no structural issues!

What does a voice disorder sound like?

Common symptoms of adult voice disorder may look like:

  • A Scratchy Voice
  • Vocal Fold Paralysis
  • Breathy Speech
  • Strained Voice
  • Sore Throat
  • Strained Vocal Nodules
  • Chronic Laryngitis
  • Squeaking
  • Raspy or Hoarse Voice
  • Speaking With Inappropriately High Or Low Pitches
  • Garbled Voice
  • Squeaking During Speech
  • Pain While Speaking
  • Trouble Breathing
  • Difficulty Swallowing
  • If You Are Personally Not Satisfied With How Your Voice Sounds

Speech language pathologists are also able to work with transgender patients to achieve their desired vocal qualities.

What causes a voice disorder?

Voice disorders can be caused by various factors, including overuse of your voice, short-term illnesses (e.g., cold, allergies, sinus infection), structural issues, and degenerative disorders (e.g., Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, etc.).

Adults who have occupations that require long periods of time speaking, yelling, or whispering may experience voice disorders as part of overuse; those who sing regularly may also develop voice issues. Structural issues might include diseases, defects, or abnormal growths on or around the vocal folds that affect the voice. Adults may develop structural issues through the regular use of irritants (smoking, alcohol, caffeine, etc.), overuse of the vocal folds, or overall poor vocal hygiene. Structural issues can be confirmed or identified by an ENT.

Additionally, the progression of degenerative disorders might affect the strength, volume, clarity, pitch, and quality of voice. As the degenerative disorder progresses, vocal quality tends to decrease.

What Does Treatment for a Voice Disorder Look Like?

Treatment for voice disorders or airway disorders is very dependent upon the cause of the disorder. Since the cause is essential for treatment, a speech language pathologist will recommend seeing an ENT first to receive proper treatment. An ENT is able to confirm or rule out any structural issues or defects that might be causing vocal disorders. If structural issues are the cause of a voice disorder, the ENT may have recommendations for treatment, including prosthesis or surgery.

If structural issues have been ruled out, then treatment may focus on other causes for the disorder. Treatment will focus on reducing and addressing the cause of the vocal disorder and teaching appropriate vocal behaviors. Treatment strategies or techniques often depend on the cause of the disorder.

What is vocal hygiene?

In the same way that dental hygiene is important for keeping your mouth healthy, vocal hygiene is essential for avoiding voice disorders. Vocal hygiene is a set of good voicing habits that help maintain the integrity and health of your vocal folds. Keeping the vocal folds healthy requires hydration, vocal breaks, and other appropriate voice behaviors. Some examples of healthy habits for your voice include:

  • Avoiding Irritants (this may include allergens, smoke or secondhand smoke, caffeine intake, alcohol, etc.)
  • Frequent Hydration
  • Avoiding Yelling or Whispering
  • Avoiding Throat Clearing

A good vocal hygiene regimen can help improve and maintain a healthy voice quality; it is also essential to avoid developing voice disorders.