Frequently Asked Questions - Voice and Swallowing

How can I care for my voice on a regular basis?

Our voice works best when our whole body is healthy. Therefore getting enough sleep, eating healthy, and regular exercise all contribute significantly to vocal health. Some more specific things to keep your voice in good health are:
  • drink plenty of water and avoid drinks with caffeine or alcohol as they pull water out of your body
  • adjust your environment to be free of pollutants like smoke, dust, & chemicals
  • use alternatives to throat clearing, such as humming or a hard swallow
  • use clapping, whistling, or other means to attract attention or express excitement rather than yelling
  • take a voice break any time you feel a strain
  • let your voice be carried on your breath, breathing frequently and not talking on the end of your breath
  • speak with melody in your voice, avoiding letting your voice drop so low that it sounds gravelly (“glottal fry”)
  • manage stress levels
  • release tension in your jaw, upper chest, shoulders, neck, and throat
  • when your voice is even a little bit hoarse, do not push to force your voice out and make it sound better as this can create more irritation of your vocal folds
  • singers should sing in a comfortable pitch and loudness range, avoiding prolonged use outside of that range
  • rest your voice when you have a cold or are tired

How do I know if I have a problem with my voice?

Voice problems can build up over time or appear suddenly. If you feel a change in your voice, such as hoarseness, breathiness, strain, or pain, follow the guidelines for caring for your voice. If your voice problem persists for 10 days or more, consult your doctor.

Who evaluates voice problems?

A laryngologist is a doctor that specializes in problems of the voice box (larynx), such as swallowing difficulties or hoarseness. They will ask questions, as well as look directly at your vocal folds in order to determine the best course of action.

A speech-language pathologist that specializes in voice often works with a laryngologist to provide behavior modification training to improve vocal function. Voice therapists teach people how to best care for their voice as well as train how to use breath support and voicing strategies to get the most out of your voice. The American Speech Language and Hearing Association explains, “Speech therapy is a term that encompasses a variety of therapies including voice therapy. Most insurance companies refer to voice therapy as speech therapy, but they are the same if provided by a certified and licenses speech-language pathologist” (n.d.).

What treatment options are there for voice problems?

Treatment options include lifestyle changes, medication, surgery, and behavioral voice use changes. Lifestyle changes are simple changes to your environment or daily routine that can improve your voice (e.g., drinking more water). Medication can be used to help an infection heal or help protect your voice box from irritating acid. Surgery is used when the structure of the larynx or vocal fold needs to be changed, such as removing a growth. It is also possible to retrain a person to use a more effective breathing pattern or speak with less effort.

Does insurance cover treatment by a speech-language pathologist?

Typically, when a referral is received from a physician, such as a laryngologist, some amount of therapy is covered. Medicare generally covers treatment by a certified and licensed speech-language pathologist. Medicaid and private insurance coverage vary. It is best to contact your Medicaid state office or insurance company regarding your policy.

Are speech therapy and voice therapy the same?

Speech therapy is a term that encompasses a variety of therapies including voice therapy. Most insurance companies refer to voice therapy as speech therapy, but they are the same if provided by a certified and licensed speech-language pathologist.

What does it mean if I have a “lump in my throat” sensation?

A ”lump in the throat”sensation, known medically as globus, can be a symptom of either a voice or a swallowing problem. There are numerous causes for this symptom but the majority of the time, it is not an indication of a serious medical problem. However, if the globus sensation is accompanied by signs such as weight loss, neck or throat pain, choking or regurgitating, muscle weakness or an actual lump which is felt on the outside of the neck, it should be evaluated promptly by a doctor.