So, You're Not Talking Much In Quarantine. Here's How To Keep Your Voice Healthy

May 9, 2020
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

When you wake in the morning, your voice may sound a little (clearing throat) froggy. No disrespect to frogs, but you begin to speak, and that amphibian tone recedes. But what if you're quarantined alone and just talking a lot less? Sandy Hirsch is a speech language pathologist in Seattle who joins us now. Thanks so much for being with us.

SANDY HIRSCH: It's absolutely a pleasure, Scott. Thank you for having me.

SIMON: What happens to your voice if it's not used a lot?

HIRSCH: Well, you know, voice is like other parts of the body. We get a bit creaky. When I get up in the morning at my 61 years old, I feel like I'm about 85.

SIMON: (Laughter).

HIRSCH: And then by the time I go to the bathroom, and I brush my teeth, I might come back down to about 70. You know, by the time I'm sitting at my desk and ready to work, I'm back to my 61. And the voice is no different. You know, if you don't use it, it gets a bit cranky.

SIMON: Is there any kind of long-lasting damage that could be done by talking less?

HIRSCH: If people are experiencing persistent, worrisome changes in their voice, they should always consult a voice clinician. In terms of long-term damage, you'd have to be not speaking for a very, very long time. Now, we know that the voice goes through changes as we get older, when the voice can actually get weaker, just like other parts of our body get weaker as we get older. And we have to make sure they stay - you know, it stays strong. But this situation is a blip in time vocally.

SIMON: Sandy, do you think there's an emotional effect by not talking a lot?

HIRSCH: You know, I love that question, honestly, because it speaks to vocal identity. You know, who are we when our voice is out in the world compared to who we are inside our own head? Those are two very different people, sometimes, so it can go either way. I think for people who are challenged mentally health wise, it's very lonely. And for people who aren't, it might be a moment for greater creativity, trying out parts of our identity that we didn't even realize existed.

SIMON: I understand you have some exercises that almost anyone can use during this period.

HIRSCH: Yes, yes, well, I'm so glad you asked, Scott, I have to say. I have a water bottle that has a straw in it that is a little bit wider than a regular straw. What I'm doing is I'm putting my straw into the water...

SIMON: Yeah.

HIRSCH: ...And I'm just going to glide up and down a scale like this.

(SOUNDBITE OF WATER BUBBLING)

HIRSCH: It's just a really nice muscle stretch.

SIMON: I'm going to try it, OK?

HIRSCH: OK, give it a go, yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF WATER BUBBLING)

HIRSCH: Go all the way up the scales. Go up. Blowing gently.

SIMON: Sorry (laughter).

HIRSCH: Did you get - you got a face wash, didn't you?

SIMON: Yeah, I did (laughter).

HIRSCH: Other exercises people can do are shouting at the cat in the garden to get out of the flowerbed and the vegetable garden. Hey, get out of there, you know? Hey, hey, hey, what are you doing? And then, you know, you might just do an extended sound on an e vowel sound on a comfortable pitch.

SIMON: (Vocalizing).

HIRSCH: Oh, my gosh - and a lovely little decay at the end. That was gorgeous.

SIMON: Sandy Hirsch is a speech-language pathologist in Seattle. And thanks so much.

HIRSCH: Thank you so much. It's been a pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ARPEGGIATE!")

KEN BURTON: (Vocalizing). Your turn. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.