Tips for protecting your speech and hearing

Written by: 
Nancy Kolsti

You style your hair with a blow dryer, holding the dryer very close to your ears. During your commute to work, you crank up your car radio to the maximum level. Once at work, you constantly sip coffee instead of water, and, at staff meetings, you shout over the chatter of other employees to make yourself heard.

If these are daily habits for you, you may be harming your voice and your hearing over time. Background noise in an increasingly noisy world may also harm your hearing.

"If you leave a concert or other noisy place, and your ears are ringing, damage has already happened," says Elizabeth McGee, an audiologist and clinical supervisor at the University of North Texas Speech and Hearing Center. "You can experience only so many ringing episodes before the damage becomes permanent."

As summer arrives, McGee has tips for preserving your hearing, while Shannon Presley, a lecturer and clinical education coordinator in UNT's Department of Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology, offers suggestions for protecting your voice.

Tips for preserving your hearing

  • Recognize that some of the most common household items used daily or weekly -- including blow dryers, vacuum cleaners and lawn mowers -- have decibel levels that are considered unsafe with prolonged exposure by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Limit your exposure to the noise by giving yourself breaks, or use hearing protection, McGee says. You could wear sound-muffling plugs inserted into the outer ear canal with noise-cancelling earmuffs at the same time, she says.
  • Hearing protection is particularly important if you're working with power tools or other machines, if you're at a gun range, concert or disco, or around fireworks, McGee says.
  • Turn down the volume of radios, MP3 players, iPods and TVs, as loud volume can cause noise-induced hearing loss.
  • Newborns should always receive a hearing screening so any impairment can be treated as soon as possible. "If a child isn't hearing correctly by age 3, he or she won't develop language normally," McGee says.
  • Regular hearing evaluations for adults, conducted every three years, can determine the health of your ears. Audiologists will check for ear wax build up and healthy movement of your eardrums.

Tips for protecting your voice

  • Avoid smoking and being around secondhand smoke to prevent laryngeal cancer.
  • Alcoholic and caffeinated drinks dry out your vocal folds, so limit your intake, Presley says. Instead, drink 64 ounces of water each day to keep your vocal folds hydrated.
  • Minimize situations in which you must yell or scream to be heard. Yelling and screaming can cause swelling of the vocal folds, Presley says. She suggests using amplification when speaking to a crowd to prevent voice strain, and resting your voice for at least 10 minutes after you spend 60 minutes talking.
  • Avoid throat clearing and whispering, which also add strain to the vocal folds.