Occupational Vocal Health - An Emerging Employee Wellness Issue

What is Vocal Health?

Millions of professions today are dependent on voice, a tool that we start using right from our birth and as we grow and some of our careers depend on this magical sound producing tool that resides in our throat which helps us talk, sing, communicate, sell and form human relationships. For a tool so important, we often take it for granted and rarely take care of it. From school teachers to sales executives, leaders to call center employees, the vast majority of our jobs today depend on our voices and neglecting them is turning out to be an occupational hazard.

Many of us may experience temporary bouts of voice issues such as having hoarseness and tiredness after prolonged sessions of speaking due to the demands of workplace such as a call center or teaching. Nipping voice problems early by regular care not only prevents further problems but also helps perform their job satisfactorily.

Whom does vocal health affect the most? Is vocal health an employee wellness issue?

Before we delve into the possible causes and precautions, it would help understand the professions that are most impacted.

First level include elite vocal performers such as singers, actors; second level encompasses professional users such as call center executives, teachers, marketers; third and fourth level users consist of doctors, lawyers, etc. A first level elite performer cancelling a show or concert due to voice issues may make headlines but the economic

impact of voice issues goes far beyond that. A 2001 study estimated that the annual cost of voice problems in teachers alone could amount to $2.5 billion. If we extrapolate this figure to other professions such as call center executives, marketers, etc., the impact could be staggering.

With these numbers and cross section of people impacted in perspective, it is quite obvious why vocal health should be a focus area for management of companies and why they should proactively take steps to reduce the economic impact of voice issues on their respective organizations.

What are the causes and factors aggravating vocal health problems?

The most common cause of vocal health problems is long lasting overuse or abuse of voice by subjecting vocal cords to high vocal load. This may lead to hoarseness initially and on continuous strain result in development of more serious issues such as benign vocal fold lesions that could end in voice impairment. Voice professionals have a high chance of upto 29.9% of suffering from voice disorders resulting in losing out at least 2% working days in a year. Severe vocal injuries that require surgical intervention could take weeks or months to heal and at times can cause permanent scarring that might prevent the voice from returning to normalcy.

If voice overuse is the key reason, there are many lifestyle and health issues that could be contributing to voice issues. Vocal attrition is seen to be significantly higher in smokers and furthermore in those leading a sedentary lifestyle. It also affects individuals suffering from sinus problems and those having frequent colds and dry mouth. If your job requires high voice usage and you rate high on any of the above risk factors, it is highly recommended that you approach a voice/ENT specialist for preventive screening.

What are the preventive measures that can be taken?

Maintaining vocal health is a constant process which needs to be followed religiously on a day to day basis. Prevention is always better than cure and following these measures can reduce your risk of voice related problems.

  • Cut down or stop smoking
  • Avoid excessive coughing or throat clearing
  • Use breathing mask or filter if your work environment is known for dust, allergens or irritants
  • Keep your larynx hydrated by consuming water at regular intervals
  • Avoid consuming alcohol and caffeinated drinks
  • Consume warm, non-caffeinated liquids after extended periods of voice use
  • Maintain physical fitness and get adequate rest every night
  • Keep an eye on your diet and spicy, acidic foods that could cause irritation to your vocal cords
  • If your job requires you to speak continuously, take short breaks to relax and hydrate
  • Avoid episodes of shouting or screaming especially in high noise areas
  • Maintain adequate humidity and ventilation in your home and workplace, if required use a steam vaporizer at night

How Dr Rao’s can help your organization with vocal health issues?

A growing body of voice research clearly shows the economic impact of voice issues and why it should be a focus area from an Employee Health and Safety perspective for organizations. Regular screening and early treatment can help both employees and employers in a significant way. Dr Rao’s ENT is happy to help your organization through awareness and screening camps, and through customized ENT packages based on your nature of work.

Consult Dr Rao's ENT - India's Best Voice Specialists for all your Voice Related Issues

Benefits for Employees

Understand the importance of preserving and enhancing the consistency and quality of their voice which is a key tool for communication through awareness and preventive measures. Prevent the loss of working days, illness and any financial implications caused by surgical intervention in severe cases.

Benefits for Employers

By proactively addressing voice related issues, employers will not only fulfil their obligations towards employee health and safety, but may also reduce losses due to days lost to illness.