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Voice Problems: An Occupational Hazard for Teachers

Ajit Harisinghani

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“Mrs. Usha Iyer will not be taking her classes today” says the notice board in the school lobby. “Laryngitis” – diagnoses the doctor which means she suffers from an inflammation of her vocal cords due to continued vocal abuse.

Nothing serious. It’s just that she has temporarily lost the use of her voice as she does at least once every year: a condition which could well be called an occupational hazard for teachers.

The medical treatment includes voice rest for at least 3 days (difficult to implement in most cases!), steam inhalations and depending on the case, medication or even surgery.

Picture a class-room full of 40 to 60 boisterous ten-year olds. The suppressed whispers of the children; the noise in the corridors; the din of traffic outside – all building up an ambience which forces Usha to almost shout to be heard above it all. Add to this the chalk dust which rises every time she uses the duster to clear the black-board and you have an environment which assaults the vocal system of every teacher day in and day out. Indeed, it is surprising that Usha and her colleagues lose their voices only about once a year and not more often.our vocal cords, situated in the larynx (or voice-box) are two bands of elastic tissue which vibrate when air is exhaled through them. Most speech is produced as we breathe out. As air from the lungs passes between the two vocal cords, sound is produced. This sound (voice) is then modulated into speech by the precise movements of the tongue and lips. The quality of the voice produced is dependent upon the ease (or effort) with which the vocal cords move. If they vibrate in synchrony, they produce a pleasing voice. However, if they are forced into moving in a stressful manner; if they are under constant operative strain, not only will they produce an unpleasant or even abnormal tone but they may well damage themselves permanently. When Usha shouts, her vocal cords are clashing against each other – ultimately causing them to become enlarged. This impedes their movements resulting in a periodic loss of voice. If this happens often enough, the cords develop small boils (not surprisingly called “teacher’s nodules”). Treated early, such nodules may well disappear. But. as is often the case, the vocal abuse continues and brings in the prospect of surgical intervention. This does not really solve the problem completely. Vocal-cord surgery itself can cause an irreversible scarring of the delicate vocal tissue leading to permanent hoarseness of voice. E.N.T. surgeons consider such surgery only as a last option. They prefer to first refer the case to a speech therapist who will attempt to help the person alter his or her “vocal” manner.

Modifying Speech Habits

Speech is one of our body’s strongest habits. Even the quality of voice we produce is the result of a collection of body motions and could well be termed habitual. For Usha, the answer to her recurring voice problem lies in developing an easier manner of speaking which will minimize if not prevent the trauma caused to her vocal cords every teaching day. This newer, easier speaking style will involve modifying her speech habits. She will teach herself to speak with a more relaxed muscular tonus. She will select a pitch level more appropriate to her laryngeal dimensions and therefore more pleasant. She will develop her ability to project her voice more effectively. She will also adopt a variety of other simple techniques which will all help her avoid losing her voice periodically.

M. S.( USA);C.C.C.( USA)
Speech Pathologis

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