The importance of voice


The importance of voice

16 Apr, 2021

The voice: communication tool par excellence, crucial in human relationships, artistic expression and an integral part of every culture in the world. World Voice Day (inaugurated in Brazil in 1999) is today celebrated annually on April 16 with the aim of raising public awareness of the importance of the voice and warning against any vocal pathologies.

Why do we "lose our voice"? What are the tips for a healthy voice? Why do we struggle to recognize each other when we listen to our voice messages?

These (and other) questions were answered by Prof. Matteo Trimarchi, Associate of Otolaryngology at the Vita-Salute San Raffaele University and Specialist in Otolaryngology at the Operating Unit of Otolaryngology of the San Raffaele Hospital.

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Gender, ethnicity, age… how can voice able give us so much information about our interlocutor?

Through the combination of intensity, pitch and timbre, the voice is able to convey a wide range of emotions such as anger, joy, sadness and fear, regardless of the meaning of the words; the accent and cadences of an individual inform us about their geographical origin. In a nutshell we could say that the voice is able to simultaneously tell us who we are, where we are from and where we wish to arrive.

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What is the social importance of voice?

The importance of the voice in social behavior has been the subject of numerous studies that affirm the existence of a "social drive" aimed at establishing bonds among individuals.

Just think of the curious experiment of the ethologist Konrad Lorenz who, in the absence of a duck that performed the maternal function, began to speak regularly to a brood of ducklings: at the moment of birth they showed a sensitization towards his voice, revealing a true preference for the human voice. Taking into consideration the human beings, every child appears endowed from birth with innate communication skills, first of all crying, which has the primary function of signaling their particular states and needs to those who take care of them.

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Sometimes we happen to play back our own voice messages: why does our voice sound so different?

There is a physical explanation for this phenomenon. We hear our voice differently from how other people hear it because the voice heard by others crosses the air before reaching the ears. The sounds emitted by ourselves, on the other hand, are transmitted not only through the air, but also through all the tissues between the larynx and the cochlea (the inner ear). Sound waves take on different frequencies depending on whether they pass through air or a solid medium, so it will have a different timbre.

Furthermore, any recorder alters our voice, even if in a minor way. During recording, the sound is converted from mechanical sound waves to electromagnetic waves, while for listening the reverse process takes place: this is why the voice emitted by these devices is never perfectly identical to the original.

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What are the main pathologies affecting the voice? How can they be treated?

Voice disorders, also called dysphonies, can be of two different types: organic or functional. The former are due to inflammatory, anatomical or any other alterations of the larynx, the main organ responsible for the production of the voice. Functional dysphonies, on the other hand, are voice pathologies that occur in the absence of specific lesions or motor deficits.

The treatment of organic dysphonies is based on the elimination of the triggering cause of the disorder, for example gastric reflux in the case of acid reflux laryngopathy. For the treatment of functional disorders, a fundamental role is played by speech therapy rehabilitation, as well as by a series of behavioral rules aimed at reducing stress on the vocal cords.

A warning: persistent dysphonies or drops in voice which do not heal, in some cases could be the expression of more serious pathologies (vocal cord carcinoma, lung diseases), so be careful not to underestimate them.

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Why do you "lose our voice"? What are the categories most at risk?

You can lose your voice in case of its bad or excessive use, respectively called malmenage or laryngeal surmenage. All people subjected to a higher than normal vocal load in order to make their voice perceptible to listeners, such as teachers, managers, singers, actors, radio speakers, clerks or hairdressers, are more at risk.

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What are the tips for a healthy voice?

The main tips for a healthy voice consist of:

  • use a medium tone in the articulation of sounds so as not to over-strain the vocal cords;

  • avoid as much as possible the use of irritants such as alcohol;

  • abolish cigarette smoking;

  • take an adequate daily intake of fluids as well as humidify domestic environments in order to ensure appropriate hydration of the vocal cords.

Last but not least, adherence to the vaccination campaign against the papilloma virus, responsible not only for pathologies belonging to the anogenital area, but also for laryngeal papillomatosis, an important cause of dysphonia especially in children.

Written by

UniSR Communication Team
UniSR Communication Team

Thanks to the contribution of the various team members, the UniSR Marketing and Communications Service deals with the multiple communication areas of the University: news scouting, creation of news, audio and video, event organization, website management and institutional social media, drafting and publication of newsletters, support for institutional relations. The Service interacts with all the main stakeholders (students, teachers, technical and administrative staff, research community, territory) in order to support and potential communication (internal and external) of the initiatives related to teaching, research and public engagement.

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