January 2020 has been a big month for speech-language pathologists! Especially for all of us Pennsylvanians as we celebrate the Pennsylvania-based rap artist FRZY breaking the Guiness World Record for longest free style rap, clocking in at 31 hours! He was allowed a five-minute break every hour; during his breaks, he would receive aid from Dr. Jackie Gartner-Schmidt, who is a voice specialized speech-language pathologist and co-director at UPMC's voice center.
Who knew that a speech therapist could have such a cool job?
New York Times released an article this month on fitness instructors and vocal health. As the fitness industry is booming, so are the instructors voices. Their vocal folds are not growing any stronger, however.
According to the article, titled "Loud Fitness Classes Take a Toll On Instructors' Voices," one speech language pathologist by the name of Christine Estes "noticed that her patients featured a recurring cast of fitness instructors. She decided to conduct a study of them over a two-year period. What she discovered amazed her: They had polyps. They had nodules. They had hemorrhages. Real damage to the vocal cords that needed real treatment. All 24 were referred for behavioral treatment, and 10 opted to have surgery. "
The ability to speak and be heard is one of life's greatest gifts that we take for granted almost daily. Fitness instructors and teachers are at higher risk for losing such a critical component of their life- for some, their livelihood!
Aside from not being able to speak, what else can be impacted by vocal fold damage?
-Loss of income
-Difficulty obtaining a new job
-Heightened healthcare costs
-Impaired social well being and feelings of isolation
I'd like to take a moment to share the financial impact of dysphonia, or impaired/hoarse sounding voice, among our teacher population. Two researchers from the University of Iowa's voice academy looked into the numbers:
COST OF TEACHERS LOSING THEIR VOICE
As estimated by Drs. Katherine Verdolini and Lorraine Ramig
"Using conservative estimates: Consider there are 5,168,000 U.S. teachers, and about 40% experience voice problems. That means 2,067,200 teachers have hoarseness, fatigue, or other voice difficulties.
Of that group, only 15% actually seek treatment. Thus, 310,080 teachers get medical care.
If treatment costs $4,713 per teacher for surgery or therapy, the total medical bill is $1,461,407,040.
But, that's not all. Substitute teachers must be hired to replace the teachers with voice problems.
If each teacher with a voice problem (2,067,200) misses 3 days per year, and substitute teachers conservatively cost $60 per day, the annual cost for substitutes is $372,096,000.
So, medical costs of $1,461,407,040 + substitute teacher costs of $372,096,000 + pharmacy and insurance expenses = cost to the U.S. of $2.5 billion dollars each year."
Voice disorders can result in a voice that is weak, rough, raspy, breathy, painful, or tires easily. Symptoms lasting more than two weeks should be evaluated. Speech therapists can help with the healing process after you've been evaluated by your physician and/or ear nose and throat (ENT) specialist. On the non-therapeutic coaching side, speech coaches can help with preventative measures by observing your current habits and providing a list of vocal wellness techniques for you to implement.
Preventative voice coaching and maintenance techniques are good investments for fitness instructors, voice performers, teachers, lawyers, secretaries, and anyone who is speaking all day. As mentioned above, vocal fold injury can be an extremely costly and devastating outcome from overuse and misuse of your voice.
The good news? It can be prevented.
FRZY breaks Guinness World Record: https://www.post-gazette.com/ae/music/2020/01/13/Pittsburgh-rapper-FRZY-breaks-Guinness-freestyle-world-record/stories/202001130072
University of Iowa Voice Clinic: https://uiowa.edu/voice-academy/numbers-dont-lie