Monday, December 10, 2012

Hoarseness & Fatigue

I am a voice teacher and performer. I'm 42 and have never had any real vocal issues. Last Sept we had a huge house fire and were out of the house for 9 months. I did not teach or sing much from May-Aug. Since returning to the house in July, I have suffered from vocal fatigue, hoarseness and vocal swelling. At first I thought it was because I had not been singing/talking much. Recently I played Maria in The Sound of Music and struggled throughout the 3 months of rehearsals and six performances. I have been to my ENT several times. She increased my acid reflux meds a little but says other than mild swelling my chords are OK. She has referred me to another ENT who has a singing background but I cannot get in for a month. My chords come together when I sigh but it takes effort and doesn't feel good. My speaking voice is raspy and extremely fatigued and I have little upper range. My ENT thinks there may be a connection with the fire but I am not sure and she doesn't think there is a way to know for sure. I am worried I may have "ruined" my voice during the show although I didn't sing incorrectly. I am desperate to get better and have a lot of singing to do during the holidays. Any suggestions?

Joanna Lott, M.A., CCC-SLP replies... 
If you can, take a break from singing until you've seen the ENT who specializes in singing. It could be something very simple -- maybe your voice, which had previously been in great shape from regular use and exercise, was out of shape when you started teaching and singing again. Maybe you overdid it or jumped back in too quickly. But it is possible that there is more to it. 

Make sure that the doctor performs an examination using video stroboscopy. This is the only type of exam that shows us how your vocal folds are vibrating and can reveal even subtle flaws that other cameras can't pick up. If the new doctor can't offer that to you, find someone who can. 

If you absolutely can't stop singing before your appointment, know your limits. Stop singing when fatigue sets in. Prioritize your voice use so that you have the strength and energy to get through what is required. This may mean saying no to anything that isn't required, such as social events and time on the phone. Obviously you should avoid shouting and screaming (at sporting events, at kids, at pets, etc.). Drink 64 ounces of water per day and more if you feel thirsty. Rely on short and efficient warm-ups and don't forget to cool down after singing (lip trills are good for this). Best of luck!

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