• By Jason Howland

Mayo Clinic Minute: How does your voice work?

April 16, 2018

If you’ve ever lost your voice, you know how hard it can be to communicate. Vocal health is so important, there is a day set aside to promote it: World Voice Day on April 16.

Voice disorders can be caused by smoking, screaming or failing to drink enough water. Your voice also can be affected by age, allergies and neurological diseases.

In this Mayo Clinic Minute, Dr. Amy Rutt, a Mayo Clinic voice specialist, shows what it takes to create your voice and issues that can affect it.

Watch: The Mayo Clinic Minute

Journalists: Broadcast-quality video (1:06) is in the downloads. Read the script.

A lot is happening in the patient's body to create the sounds she's making in this exam. Dr. Rutt says it all starts with the patient's lungs.

"That is your breath support," says Dr. Rutt. "Without that, you have a very weak voice."

Air from the lungs pushes through vocal folds or what many people call the vocal cords. The vibration creates sound. That sound is shaped into words by muscles controlling the soft palate, tongue, oral cavity and lips.

"Some of the most common disorders that we see in our voice clinic include vocal fold paralysis or weakness, where the vocal fold doesn't move or doesn't meet the other vocal fold to produce voice," says Dr. Rutt.

Other issues include swelling of the folds, nodules, polyps or cysts on them. Problems on the folds can cause symptoms like breathiness, hoarseness, and a raspy or scratchy voice.

"These are the symptoms that are best to have investigated," says Dr. Rutt.

She recommends seeing an ear, nose and throat specialist.

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