Vocal Fatigue – What Is It And Its Prevalence Among Teachers?

Angry teacherVoice fatigue is most often experienced by professionals who have high vocal demands on a day to day basis. It occurs when individuals use their voices intensively and over prolonged periods of time.


The symptoms include increased strain when talking, hoarseness, and reduced loudness and reduced clarity of the voice. This may happen due to an unhealthy working environment such as a loud classroom or a room with poor acoustics. Other unfavourable working conditions include dry air, dust, smoke and temperature changes, which may irritate the mucous membranes of your throat and negatively influence the voice.


Other causes include insufficient training in how to use the voice in challenging conditions (loud voice production as an example), or the capacity of the vocal fold tissue to endure long periods of micro-trauma.


Most of us have experienced vocal fatigue on occasions, for example, spending an evening at a loud event with friends can cause vocal fatigue, due to the need to speak loudly or even shout. When vocal fatigue starts to occur frequently it may lead to the use of vocal muscle strategies that promote unhealthy vocal fold tissues, which may lead to greater voice problems.


Prevalence among teachers


Vocal fatigue leads to increased stress among teachers and may cause them to be absent frequently, for treatment, surgery and recovery, which in turn, puts financial strain on schools and the affected individuals. Vocal fatigue may also have an adverse effect on one’s career if not treated properly.  From a pupil’s perspective, learning can become difficult if he or she is unable to hear his/ her teacher.


The condition is more prevalent among female teachers than male teachers (bearing in mind that there is a larger population of female teachers). It is likely that in women, the vocal folds are particularly exposed to the effects of voice overuse due to higher vibratory rates. To achieve the same speaking task, women’s vocal folds may vibrate nearly twice as fast as men’s. In addition to this, research by University of Maine, and the Maine General Medical Center, shows that voice fatigue is also more common among senior teachers.


How to treat it


There are two general types of vocal fatigue: muscle fatigue and tissue fatigue. Muscular fatigue occurs when the muscles of the vocal system are over-used, just as muscles in the other parts of the body ache when they are over-used with strenuous exercise. Tissue fatigue, however, is caused by excessive damage of the cells that make up the vocal fold tissues.


Those suffering from vocal fatigue may be able to differentiate which type they are experiencing by its symptoms. Muscular fatigue is characterized by a tight or sharp pain in a diffuse area of the throat, whereas tissue fatigue is likely characterized by a raw or sore feeling in a more restricted area, right behind the Adam’s Apple. Since the cause of these two types of fatigue differs, recommendations for treating these problems also vary.


Muscle Fatigue


Those experiencing muscular fatigue are suggested to see a vocologist. The vocologist will likely ask the patient to perform special vocal muscle exercises that will strengthen the muscles correctly. When speaking it is important to try to keep your vocal muscles relaxed. Breathing exercises may also improve the fatigue as a support exercise. New research is underway to determine if periods of talking, interrupted by short periods of vocal rest will alleviate the daily toll on the vocal muscles.


Many people experiencing voice fatigue result to using whispering as a means to rest their voices. Whispering is soft talking that does not use the vibration of the vocal folds. Instead your vocal muscles are used. Whispering therefore does not allow the muscles to rest and could in fact lead to further vocal muscle damage or strain.


Tissue Fatigue


On the other hand, individuals experiencing tissue fatigue should focus on improving their vocal hygiene. This includes increasing the body’s hydration level, using good breath support and removing vocal irritants such as tobacco smoke. Learning to use the voice more healthfully and efficiently with the guidance of a vocologist may also be helpful in some cases.


Prevention is better than the cure


By following the tips below you may be able to protect yourself against vocal fatigue.


– Stay hydrated

Drinking lots of water, especially when it is hot, allows your vocal folds to stay supple and also maintains the mucosal lining which coats the vocal folds which are subjected to natural friction when talking.


– Seek advice from a medical professional

If you experience hoarseness or voice changes for longer than 2 weeks, you should be checked by a physician. The reason for this is that nearly all viral illnesses are resolved within this time period. In the case of chronic pain associated with speaking. Medical advice should be obtained immediately.


– Stop smoking

Smoking is extremely harmful to vocal fold tissues. Apart from this, it restricts an individual’s ability to breathe correctly which is needed to support speaking. Smoking is also known to be the leading cause of laryngeal cancer.


– Relax your muscles

Over-tensing one’s shoulders and throat area can impact your voice. Try gently stretching shoulder and neck muscles periodically throughout the day.


– Be aware of your environment.

If you’re trying to be heard over load music, background noise, noise motors, or the conversations of others, you may over strain your voice. Rather seek a quiet area or physically move closer to the person with whom you are speaking. As this is not always possible, especially in a class-room environment you may want to consider investing in sound equipment for the classroom or to treat your classroom for better acoustics.


A great fixed option in sound equipment is the Lightspeed 955 Access Soundfield  system as it offers a wide range of applications and benefits for classrooms. Some of the systems benefits include increased speech intelligibility in classrooms, increased student comprehension, attentiveness, participation, improved test scores and it significantly improves teacher vocal comfort which again leads to reduced teacher absenteeism due to vocal fatigue.


A portable option that offers similar benefits is the Lightspeed Redcat Access Soundfield system. One of the key features is that it is chargeable so that you can use it in any an indoor or outdoor environment.


Teachers have a responsibility to ensure that learners are taught well and thus need to be aware that voice fatigue is detrimental to the teaching and learning experience. Fortunately better preventative care can help prevent vocal fatigue. In addition to this, classroom audio and sound amplification technology can remove the need to strain ones voice in the classroom. PC Werth hopes that you’ve found this article helpful and that you have the necessary information to keep your voice in good health.

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