Thursday, August 20, 2015

School is back in –--hope teachers stay out of trouble…

By: Carleen F. Ozley, M.S. CCC-SLP Voice Therapist and Endoscopist with Excel ENT

Teachers represent the largest number of professionals who use their voice as their primary tool of trade. (Titze, Lemke, and Montequin, 1997). Occupational voice users, such as teachers are defined by Carol and colleagues (2006) as those “who, due to the vocal demands of their work and acoustically poor environment, injure their voice or acquire compensatory habits.” As school reopens this year, many teachers will find themselves with a “less than optimal voice” to perform the many vocal tasks required during a regular school day. It is estimated that at least 50% of teacher experience voice problems (Roy, Merrill, Thibeault, Gray and Smith, 2004). As teachers begin to create individual student goals in various areas of education, it is hoped that teachers will have a game plan for themselves to achieve and maintain a problem free voice.

Some of the contributing factors that constitute a voice disorder or voice problem for teachers may include: Poor classroom acoustics that contribute to increase levels of noise, echoes, and reverberation that make listening more difficult and encourage the teachers to use a louder voice; upper respiratory infections and airborne irritants; requirement for extended and extensive speaking times; poor hydration; ambient noise with poor room insulation; increased number of students requiring increased vocal volume; lack of amplification systems within classroom; and lack of teacher awareness for vocally abusive speaking patterns.

These conditions have contributed to teachers and other occupational voice user experiencing hoarseness, voice breaks or vocal arrests, intermittent voice loss, and vocal fatigue. Other related physical complaints may include shortness of breath, throat dryness, throat discomfort and tightness and effortful speaking. If these conditions are left untreated and teachers continue to experience chronic voice problems they are susceptible to laryngeal irritation and edema and even benign vocal fold lesions including vocal fold nodules, polyps and hemorrhages (Dejonckere, 2001; Vilkman,2004).

Vocal problems interfere with job satisfaction, performance and attendance, causing 18% of teachers to report missing work on a yearly basis. (Roy, Merrill, Thibaut, Gray et al., 2004) More than one third of teachers complain that their voice does not function as it usually does or as they would like it to for more than 5 days of the school year. (DaCosta, Prada, Roberts and Cohen, in press). Studies have also indicated that voice problems can lower a teacher’s job performance and quality of life (Smith, Gray, Dove, Kirchner and Heras, 1997; Yiu & Ma, 2002)

Prevention is obviously the best course of action. As school begins, teachers will be better able to serve their students and preserve their voice if they engage in the following suggestions:

*Have adequate daily hydration: body weight divided by 2.2 equal number of ounces for an average speaker. Teachers may need to increase that amount since their speaking demands exceed average.

*Reduce ambient noise in classroom.

*Check body posture during voicing.

*Be sure to power the voice with inhaled breath support and STOP talking when air supply has been exhausted

*Eliminate coughing and throat clears.

*100% compliance for identified diagnoses of LPR/GERD, sinusitis, allergies and asthma.

*Get plenty of rest and manage stress with good physical exercise and healthy foods.

* Check body for signals/signs of tension and contraction – especially in the neck and shoulder region.

*Decrease overall volume.

*Give your voice periods of “vocal rest” throughout the day.

*If hoarseness last for more than 2 weeks, a thorough voice evaluation and endoscopic evaluation by an ENT should be scheduled.

As school resumes this year speak up for a teacher and encourage them to take good care of their voices. Hopefully teachers will impose their own “time out” and give their voices a much needed rest and apply good vocal hygiene measures to insure a “happy, healthy school year.” 

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