Masks, shields may contribute to vocal strain for teachers, says speech pathologist
Kara Broks says people speaking through masks and shields need to exert their voice 25 to 50 per cent more
Speech pathologist Kara Broks says about 40 to 50 per cent of teachers experience some type of vocal discomfort or strain during their career, even before they started wearing masks and shields to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
"The masks and the visors or the shields are starting to add to that," said Broks, who is the founder of the Speech Language Network.
Teachers are speaking all day long, often in a larger classroom with a noisy background, and they don't get vocal rest because when they're not teaching, they're working with students, Broks said.
This strain can cause physical damage.
"You're essentially straining the muscles in your neck and within your larynx," Broks told CBC's Saskatoon Morning. "Over time, your voice just becomes hoarse or in some cases, people just kind of lose their voice."
It is harder to speak through a mask, Broks said. Generally, people average 50 to 60 decibels when speaking to be heard at a conversational level.
A mask alone takes away five to 20 decibels and a mask with a face shield takes away between 20 to 30 decibels of sound, Broks said.
"Essentially, anybody on a daily basis needing to wear a mask and a shield is … having to exert their voice 25 to 50 per cent more than they typically would."
She said there are six major things you can do to protect your voice:
Stay hydrated. Drink water throughout the day and in the evening, and use a humidifier or steam inhalation to keep your throat moist.
Use your breath. Instead of forcing the voice from the neck, take a deep breath before speaking and use your stomach muscles to project your voice.
Rest your voice. You might even try to keep sentences shorter than usual, Broks suggested.
Relax your jaw. Drop your shoulders, unclench your jaw, and try to keep your whole vocal mechanism as relaxed as possible, Broks said.
Avoid irritants. Caffeine or high fat, spicy and acidic foods could irritate the throat and larynx.
Do vocal warm-ups. Hum a few scales on the way to work to get the blood flowing to the neck.
Broks said vocal strain can be just like any other injury — you can usually rehabilitate an injury but you're more susceptible to experiencing a similar problem down the road.
"You shouldn't go out and run a 10K without warming up, kind of like you shouldn't prepare for a big day of using your voice for eight hours or six hours without warming up."
She said her advice applies to anyone speaking through a mask for a long period of time, including online teachers and coaches.
"We want to take care of our voice. It's how we connect and communicate with the world around us," she said.
"If we continually expose it to the same type of damage and don't make adjustments, you know, there can be some long term impacts with that."
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With files from Saskatoon Morning