What are voice disorders?
Voice disorders are a range of conditions which affect the larynx. They can cause changes to the voice called dysphonia or loss of voice aphonia. These changes can affect the way the voice sounds, for example, making it sound hoarse, croaky, strained, breathy or weak. Voice disorders can also make the throat feel different, for example it might feel sore, achey or dry.
Voice disorders can cause difficulties in day-to-day life for some people. For example, it may be difficult to be heard by other people, or it may affect your work, school or hobbies. Voice disorders can also cause frustration, low mood or isolation in some cases.
Before you are referred to speech and language therapy for voice therapy, you will need to be seen by an ear nose and throat (ENT) doctor, who will look into your throat using a camera to establish what is causing your voice problem. This procedure is called an endoscopy, laryngoscopy or nasendoscopy.
You may be asked to attend a multidisciplinary voice clinic or joint voice clinic. This is a specialist clinic where an ENT doctor and a speech and language therapist (SLT), and sometimes other professionals, will look into your throat with a camera and work together to agree the best management plan.
How can speech and language therapy help with my voice condition?
SLTs have an important role in helping people with voice disorders. After seeing an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) Doctor, you may be referred to speech and language therapy for voice therapy.
Input by an SLT may include:
- Helping you to understand what factors have contributed to your voice problem.
- Giving you information and advice about your voice.
- Suggesting things that you can do to improve your voice or reduce the impact that it is having.
- Teaching you some therapy techniques and exercises to improve your voice. You will usually be asked to practice these regularly at home, a bit like physiotherapy for your voice.
- Helping educate those around you (for example, your family, work or school, with your permission) about your voice condition and things that they can do to help.
- Teaching you how to keep your voice healthy in the long-term.
Some voice conditions may improve by themselves, and many others respond well to voice therapy. In some cases, a voice problem may be long-term. In this case, your ENT Doctor and SLT will try to work with you to find ways to reduce the impact of the problem on your everyday life.
If voice therapy is thought to be appropriate, you will likely be offered some therapy sessions. In these sessions, you will be shown some voice exercises and you will usually be asked to practice these at home, perhaps several times per day.
When you return for your next session, your SLT will review your voice and your exercises, and may make adjustments to the exercises, such as making them more challenging or adding new ones. As well as therapy exercises, your SLT may want to discuss with you things that are affecting your voice, such as lifestyle factors or your mental well-being.
If voice therapy is not thought to be suitable for you, your SLT may discuss some ways to lessen the impact of your voice problem, for example by changing aspects of your environment, or by using strategies to reduce the demand on your voice.
Usually, SLTs will expect you to take an active role in your voice therapy. This may include carrying out the exercises regularly, implementing the advice or strategies that you have been given. Without this active engagement, your progress may be limited.