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What Happens When a Radio Journalist Loses Her Voice?

Ja'Nel Johnson/WFPL


I thought I was going to make it through the winter without catching a cold or the flu. Many of my friends and co-workers had experienced some degree of ills since September, but I was going strong—that is until mid-February.

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It started with a severe headache and sore throat. Then, I lost my voice; a broadcaster’s worst nightmare. I went to work, but I didn’t say a word. Interviewing anyone was out of the question. Voicing a spot for the newscast wasn’t an option.

My doctor diagnosed me with laryngitis, and prescribed medication. But after two weeks of trying to do my job as a radio reporter without a voice, I sought out some specialists.

Dr. Swapna Chandran, a laryngologist, and Lisanne Craven, a voice specialist, practice at the University of Louisville.

It’s "voice day" at the office, meaning Chandran and Craven are only seeing patients with vocal disturbance or some sort of issue with their voice box.

“We take a very close look at the voice box. We take computer measurements of the voice in different pitches and ranges and loudness intensity. We do a pretty thorough analysis of the voice and then we come up with a treatment plan,” Chandran said.

Chandran uses a spray to numb my nostrils in preparation for a laryngeal video stroboscopy.  It will give them a view of my larynx to see what’s causing the prolonged irritation.

They ask me to do a few vocal exercises before starting the procedure, including reading a short passage.

Chandran inserts a small scope into my left nostril and my voice box and vocal cords appear on the screen above my head.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YSEs7Xmmx6Q?rel=0]

“Your vocal cords are both very swollen and very red. You can tell there’s a lot of inflammation going on within the vocal fold itself and also the surrounding tissue,” Chandran said.

Craven said it’s very easy for people with high vocal demands to develop problems with their voice, especially when they’re using it incorrectly or pushing themselves to speak through an illness. She said treatment depends on how the vocal cords look and the duration of the problem.

“Often times when people have a cold or a cough, they cough a lot. And they may have some tissue swelling that causes us to change the way we’re using the muscles that are needed for a good voice,” Craven said.

So, what do they suggest? Tylenol and five more days of voice rest.

I’m happy to report that after two weeks of silence, my voice, although not yet 100 percent, is back.