The problem developed slowly over time. Self-described as a Type-A personality, Steve Walton, an associate professor in the practice of decision and information analysis, Emory University Goizueta Business School, was not going to let a mere sore throat get him down. He continued to teach class every day, occasionally taking a cough drop to sooth his sore throat.
Before he knew it, a year had passed and his voice was so weak that he could hardly be heard over the din of the classroom. When he got home at night he was exhausted from the constant, heavy strain he was putting on his vocal cords. He could barely muster enough voice to talk with his wife at the end of the day.
Finally, frustration and a sinus infection overwhelmed his determination to "suck it up," and he went to a physician who recognized that he needed to be seen by a throat expert. Finally, more than a year after his throat problems began, he went to the Emory Voice Center, and learned that he had severe deterioration of his vocal cords.
"People brush off alterations in their voice because they think that if they wait long enough, it will go away. When talking becomes a physical challenge, as it did for Professor Walton, it can be a sign of a more serious problem; and if it continues to remain untreated, it can get worse," says Michael M. Johns, III, MD, director of the Emory Voice Center.
Concerned about patients like Professor Walton, a group of ear, nose and throat specialists, represented by the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, decided to bring World Voice Day to the United States. Joining with several other otolaryngic societies around the world, they are reaching out with the message that voice care, prevention and treatment are essential to maintain this primary instrument of communication. Dr. Johns is co-chair of World Voice Day 2005, being observed on April 16.
"The main goal of World Voice Day," he says, "is to reach out with our message, 'Listen to your voice, it may be telling you something,' to as many people as possible."
A change in the voice is not necessarily a bad thing or a reason to be alarmed. "Normal voice changes due to age, such as a boy's transition into adulthood or a woman's transition into menopause, are not unexpected," he says.
Dr. Johns describes the changes that people should be listening for:
"Hoarseness-Most people's definition of hoarseness is whenever the voice doesn't sound right. The clinical definition is when the voice takes on an airy and rough quality. Hoarseness may be due to a number of possible causes including infection, inflammation, neurological disease, benign lesions and even cancer.
"Weakness-Weakness means that the voice is soft, breathy, projects poorly and lacks endurance. A weak voice may be an indication of a neurological problem, bowed or thinned vocal folds, poor general health or poor biomechanics of voice use.
"Reduced Range-The range of the voice, how low and how high you can reach, is a function of many things. Gender and even the level of voice training are factors that can affect vocal range.
"Unsteady Sound-An unsteady voice is not normal and may represent a neurological problem. An unsteady voice is a rhythmic, shaky quality of vocal tremor or abrupt intermittent stoppages.
Professor Walton's condition, which was diagnosed as vocal atrophy and muscle tension dysphonia. His ability to communicate has improved tremendously. "I had developed bad habits to get my voice to work," says Dr. Walton. "Now I am always thinking about my voice, and realize that seeking help early would have been much better than waiting for the problem to progress."
For more information about World Voice Day and facts about voice-related health problems, go to the World Voice Day Website at http://www.entnet.org/news/voiceday.cfm