World Voice Day 2024

World Voice Day graphic

Voice is a huge part of David Toole’s life. He has been a professional actor since 2007; it has been his full-time career since 2017. He has also sung in bands since 1999 and teaches private voice as an Estill Certified voice coach for the past 10 years.

Early on in his career, the UPMC Voice & Airway Center was recommended by fellow performers. “The doctors there were and are highly regarded by the vocalist community,” Toole said.

His first visit, he received a vocal checkup and otolaryngoscopy (“scoped”) due to some voice issues he was dealing with after a nasty bout of laryngitis. He was hesitant to return to full on singing for fear he would damage his voice. “The scope and gracious time to ask a plethora of questions afforded to me by Dr. Libby Smith and the team there gave me total peace of mind,” he said. “I regained the confidence I desperately needed to get back to my normal vocal technique.”

David Toole singing in a performance

This was the first of many, many visits over the last 16 years. As a singer, he is very much attuned to his vocal tract and is sensitive to subtle changes in effort level, stamina, tone, and clarity. When something feels off, he explained there is a tendency to produce the sound differently. This can be self-corrected, but if it lasts longer than a few days or even weeks, the worry sets in. In turn, this leads to unnecessary tension, which can result in more vocal problems.

“That vicious cycle, however, can be put to rest with a quick visit to the Voice Center,” Toole said. He has visited for both the “Oh my gosh, I’m never going to sing again” moments, and when he feels great. He likened this to visiting a PCP for a routine physical. Since his voice is his source of income, he treats it like someone would a sports car or their home; regular, maintenance, and proactive care are key to making his voice last using it to its fullest potential.

Many do not realize that the UPMC Voice & Airway Center can provide services like these. There is no better time than World Voice Day on April 16 to highlight this treasure in the Pittsburgh community and increase awareness about the importance of voice and addressing voice problems.

“Vocal communication incorporates communication amongst each other, which also requires cognition, psychology (emotion), neurology, and hearing perception,” said Dr. Libby Smith, DO, Director of the UPMC Voice & Airway Center. “As we care for those with voice issues, a holistic approach is needed to address all these areas.”

At the UPMC Voice & Airway Center, a multi-disciplinary approach is employed with a voice-specialized physician (laryngologist) or physician-assistant in addition to a speech language pathologist. This patient-oriented, personalized care helps address voice issues in a timely manner with clinicians who have dedicated their professional lives to helping patients with voice issues.

When it comes to general vocal wellness, smoking anything is detrimental. Dr. Smith also said hydration is very important to help the vocal folds (vocal cords) vibrate well. This will also help reduce throat clearing, which is traumatic to the vocal folds. Yelling and screaming can also hurt them. In fact, repeated stress or trauma (phonotrauma) can permanently injure the vocal folds. The UPMC Voice & Airway Center helps people avoid this through education and voice therapy strategies and exercises.

Know that prolonged hoarseness is never normal. Dr. Smith said to seek care from an otolaryngologist to look at your larynx (voice box) if hoarseness lasts longer than 3-4 weeks.

Anyone, whether they are professional voice users, can have voice issues. “Unfortunately, most people take their voice for granted until there is an issue,” Dr. Smith said. “Our ability to communicate with others contributes to our sense of community and to advocate for ourselves and for others.”