Voice Disorders Can Stunt Career Growth

ur vocal cords are probably among the biggest gifts endowed by nature – imagine what our lives would be like if we were to suddenly develop a voice disorder and lose our ability to speak.

For people in certain fields such as teaching or show business, their voice plays a critical role in keeping their careers going.

Sharing her experience, renowned local singer and music lecturer Datuk Syafinaz Selamat said she once “lost” her voice, a bitter experience that affected her career.    

The country's leading singer Datuk Syafinaz Selamat also went through the bitter experience of losing her voice which affected her career.

“It happened last year. I suffered a viral infection that affected the nerves of my vocal cords, causing me to lose control of my voice and ability to sing.

“I then decided to take a break from singing and focus on my treatment. I saw a laryngologist and took my medications and also underwent voice therapy online with a vocal teacher from Germany,” she told Bernama.

The former member of the board of directors of the National Arts, Cultural and Heritage Academy (ASWARA) said her voice is now on the road to recovery and reminded the public to always take care of their voice and physical health.  


According to Prof Datin Dr Marina Mat Baki, a professor of laryngology at the Faculty of Medicine, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia here, studies done overseas found that people with voice problems felt worse off about their lives than those suffering from chronic diseases.

“Voice problems can also lead to mental issues and stress because it can prevent one from getting a job and source of income as well as participating in their favourite social activities,” she said.

Dr Marina, who is also a senior consultant of otorhinolaryngology at Hospital Canselor Tuanku Muhriz here, said those prone to developing the ‘vocal overdoer syndrome’ are mainly professionals who tend to overuse their voice and they include singers, news readers, teachers and even politicians and businessmen.

Prof Dr Marina Mat Baki (sit in the centre).

Excessive use of one’s voice can strain and damage one’s vocal cords, the folds of tissue located in the larynx (voice box) that produce the sounds used for speech.

“Repeated and prolonged damage can irritate the vocal cords and cause swelling, affecting the quality of the voice which will turn hoarse. Following this, polyps, nodules, cysts and scars can occur which will further deteriorate the voice quality,” she explained.

Jobs that use a lot of voice until the occurrence of 'Vocal Overdoer Syndrome' include singers. --fotoBERNAMA (2023) ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

For some professionals, the situation worsens when the demands of their careers force them to continue using their voice even though it is not in good condition.

“There have been cases of singers who were forced to readapt their songs as a result of their voice issues, which will have a profound effect on their careers,” she said, adding that professional voice users make up 30 percent of patients that are referred to speech therapists after undergoing a voice box endoscopy (laryngoscopy).  

The sizeable number is likely due to a lack of knowledge about voice production and the factors that cause damage to the vocal cords, she added.  


Dr Marina also pointed out that lifestyle habits such as consuming unhealthy food, smoking, excessive consumption of alcohol, irregular sleeping patterns and not drinking enough water can also impact one’s vocal cords as such practices can cause the stomach to produce more acid which, in turn, can trigger acid reflux, with the stomach acid going all the way up to the vocal cords.

“Reflux can cause secretions and discomfort in the throat as a result of which the person concerned will cough and clear their throat frequently to relieve their throat. But this will only worsen their voice health,” she said, warning that smoking has even more adverse effects on the vocal cords as the smoke inhaled is a risk factor for laryngeal cancer.

Voice is one of the main mediums for humans to interact, including in matters of notification and information delivery. -- fotoBERNAMA (2023) ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

On the treatment for voice problems, Dr Marina said hoarseness can be treated with medicines that can reduce acid production in the stomach as well as attend to nasal allergies to reduce phlegm.

She also advocates voice hygiene or daily good habits such as drinking adequate amounts of plain water so that the throat stays moist, eating healthily, getting enough sleep and refraining from smoking, drinking alcohol and shouting.   

“Control the urge to clear your throat and avoid coughing excessively as it can irritate your vocal cords which can worsen the situation.”

She added those with polyps, cysts or hard nodules in their vocal cords can opt for surgery while non-surgical cases can go for voice therapy.


Meanwhile, an occupational health expert at the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Dr Muhamad Ariff Muhamad Noordin said the level of awareness on voice care is generally low in this country due to the lack of activities and campaigns on this matter.  

Voice plays an important role in the productivity of the employment industry because employers, employees, and enforcement need to constantly communicate. --fotoBERNAMA (2023) ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

He said occupational-related voice disorders constitute a workplace hazard and can disrupt the productivity of a company.

“Employers must know they are obliged to protect their workers against any danger that poses a threat to their safety and health. This is clearly provided for under Section 15(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act 1994.

“Although we don’t have a voice-related OSH policy in our country, employers together with their workers can create their own policy on this so that there’s more awareness on this matter and the welfare of the employees is protected,” he said, adding that NIOSH will carry out more studies on voice health and submit their findings to the government.

The 'Voice For Work, Work For Voice' forum is one of the initiatives of various parties including NIOSH to spread the importance of protecting the voice.

He added that employees can also consider insuring their voice, citing the case of international singer Mariah Carey who, according to media reports in 2016, insured her voice for nearly US$35 million.


Translated by Rema Nambiar




© 2024 BERNAMA. All Rights Reserved.