AKUH, N Celebrates World Voice Day
News 2013

Connect with your voice, it might be telling you something

April 16, 2013

If you ever lost your voice, even for a day, you can relate with the frustrations of trying to communicate without any sound coming from your throat. But the majority of us     take our voices for granted because we talk, laugh, shout, whisper, scream, or yell at will depending on the situation.  Few of us ever stop to think about our voices and what it would be like to try to use your mouth without ever producing any sound.

That is why World Voice Day, celebrated at Aga Khan University Hospital, Nairobi recently, was important. For one day in the year, people all around the world stop and reflect on their voices, especially the need to look after them, the way you would care for something you consider valuable.

40 year old David Kiarie who attended the celebration knows only too well the frustration of living without voice. He had his larynx (voice box) removed in 2003 as a result of throat cancer caused by years of chain smoking. For the charcoal dealer and a father of four, life has not been easy.

David now communicates by placing a Servox machine on his neck to produce sound, an expensive and tedious exercise. He now breathes through a hole in his neck called a stoma. After many years of counselling and help from Speech and Language Therapists, he communicates with difficulty. He now uses his experience to sensitize people about the importance of the voice and the dangers of smoking. David is a member of a support group that meets on the first Thursday of every month at the Kenyatta National Hospital for people who have laryngectomy (removal of the voice box for medical reasons).

Dr. Chimmy Omamo Olende, a Consultant Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) Surgeon at Aga Khan University Hospital, Nairobi when making her presentation, said, “Connect with your voice, it might be telling you something. Like any other part of your body, there is need to listen to your voice and know what is normal, or abnormal. If you have a hoarse voice continuously for two to three weeks, you must consult an ENT specialist.”

“A lot of the people I see in my clinic with voice disorders come from professions that rely heavily on the voice including teachers, preachers, politicians, salespeople, telemarketers and receptionists. This is usually a result of overusing the voice and sometimes all they need is rest for their voices.”

Dr. Omamo continues, “Voice problems can also result from other more complex factors including brain and chest lesions, tumours in the throat or medications that can cause hoarseness of voice. It is therefore important to have both a medical and a social history of the patient as noisy kids, alcohol, smoking, or wailing caused by bereavement, can also be pointers to the onset of a voice problem.”

“A major culprit, often ignored is Laryngo-Pharyngeal Reflux (LPR). This occurs when small amounts of stomach juices (acids) travel from the stomach to the throat and the voice box (larynx). LPR is sometimes called ‘silent reflux’ as many people do not experience symptoms of heartburn.”

“Instead, people with LPR report having a hoarse, tight, or croaky voice, experience a sensation of food sticking in the throat, have difficulty in swallowing, especially tablets and solid foods. They also have too much mucus in the throat, excessive burping, a chronic cough and an occasional unpleasant ‘acid’ taste in the back of the mouth.”

This problem once diagnosed by an ENT specialist, is treated on an individual basis by making lifestyle and dietary changes, taking medications to reduce stomach acid, or on rare occasions, surgery. Voice therapy is important to help the client regain their clear voice. Often, the patients will report improvements in two to three months.

Emma Shah, a Speech and Language Therapist at Aga Khan University Hospital, Nairobi gave tips for a healthy voice especially important to professional voice users. She said, “Rehydrate your voice frequently by drinking lots of water, steer away from smoking, smoky places and all kinds of irritants. Use diaphragmatic breathing and mostly through the nose. Also avoid coughing and throat clearing unless you have a cold.”

“Do not shout, or yell and stay away from air conditioning as it tends to dry the air. Always go through a voice warm-up prior to a performance and avoid talking excessively. If you suffer from acid reflux, seek a doctor’s advice on medication, diet, timing of meals and the best position for sleeping.”