Got the gift of gab?

LOS ANGELES Janette Deschamps jumps, twists and sings four times a week at her church.

"I'm that annoying person who hums all day long, sings in the car, sings in the shower," said Deschamps.

But a few months ago, Janette lost her voice.

"Notes that I could sing, I couldn't sing anymore, so I started wondering what was happening," said Deschamps.

An exam showed Janette had blisters on her vocal cords. She was over-using her voice -- something more and more Americans are guilty of.

"We're very demanding on our voices. We have a tendency to work hard. We have a tendency to play hard," said otolaryngologist, Dr. Jeffrey Lehman.

And not just performers. Anyone who talks most of the day is at risk. When you speak incorrectly, your vocal cords collide and swell.

To prevent problems: don't smoke, drink enough water -- about eight, eight ounce glasses a day, avoid caffeine, alcohol and spicy foods, use e-mail or texting when you can, take a deep breath before you speak, don't talk too loudly, but don't whisper either.

"A strained whisper like this actually causes more friction on the vocal folds," said Bari Hoffman-Ruddy, PhD.

Janette's learning new ways to breathe when she sings. She hopes they will help her keep her most prized gift, her voice.

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SHHH GIVE IT A REST! Many Americans put heavy demands on their voices. Salespeople often stay on the phone all day long without breaks. Teachers continue to lecture even when they're tired. Performers sing loudly to please a crowd. The result can be a sore and hoarse voice. Your vocal cords touch gently every time you make a sound. "We're very demanding on our voices," says Jeffrey Lehman, M.D., an otolaryngologist at the University of Central Florida and The Ear, Nose & Throat Surgical Associates in Orlando, Florida.

"We have a tendency to work hard, and we have a tendency to play hard, and so our voices are in a continual state of use." When you talk loudly or yell, your vocal cords slam together. If you talk a lot, your vocal cords continue rubbing together and are bound to get swollen and sore. "It's a matter of repetitive trauma," Dr. Lehman said. "Just like people who are sitting at a typewriter can have problems with carpal tunnel syndrome, we have the same thing with the vocal cords." Experts say that if you have hoarseness for two weeks and your voice hasn't gotten better, it's time to see an ear, nose and throat specialist.

DIAGNOSING THE PROBLEM: To diagnose a voice condition, doctors insert a small probe into the patient's mouth with a camera on the end of it. They use a special light source to view the subtle movement or changes of the vocal folds. "We look at movement of the vocal folds, vibration characteristics and what we call the function," says Bari Hoffman-Ruddy, Ph.D., from the University of Central Florida and the Ear, Nose & Throat Surgical Associates.

HOW TO SAVE YOUR VOICE:Voice conditions are a common problem. "I think almost everybody, I mean you could say almost 100 percent, have experienced at least a transient problem with their voice," Dr. Lehman said. To avoid any issues, try the following:

  • Don't speak too loudly or too frequently: Recognize when your voice is tired.
  • Avoid stress: Relaxation techniques can improve your voice and allow you to speak more effectively and longer.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol: They can dehydrate vocal folds, which can cause tissue damage.
  • Drink plenty of water: For every mug of coffee you ingest, drink at least one, eight-ounce glass of water.
  • Don't smoke: Smoking is the leading cause of laryngeal cancer and it can irritate tissue used for singing and talking.
  • Use a microphone: It will reduce the strain on your voice.
  • Don't whisper: It can make your voice worse!

OTHER TREATMENTS: Vocal rest is one of the first treatments experts recommend. If symptoms persist, treatments may include medications, a modified diet plan and, in some cases, surgery.


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