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UCF Voice Clinic Helps Local High School Chorus Groups Tune Their Voices

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By Zenaida Gonzalez Kotala

In one episode of the television show Hannah Montana, the singer loses her voice. She's told to keep quiet so her vocal cords can rest. By the end of the episode, she's ready to perform again. 

It's not always that easy for actresses, politicians, teachers or students who struggle with hoarse voices. That's why the University of Central Florida and a local ear, nose and throat physician run a clinic that diagnoses and treats a wide range of voice problems.

UCF's Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders and Dr. Jeffrey Lehman treat clients with laryngitis, vocal nodules and other more complex medical problems, such as laryngeal cancer. Any resident in the community can visit the clinic, which charge fees on clients' incomes.

In an effort to reach out to the community, graduate students led by Associate Professor Bari Hoffman Ruddy have also been giving vocal health care presentations to local high schools this year.

They have given students in choirs, speech teams, cheerleading squads and drama clubs a crash course on healthy vocal use. The UCF students are also making presentations to local support groups for Parkinson's and Huntington's diseases, ALS and multiple sclerosis. The last presentations will be given this week and next week to coincide with World Voice Day on April 16.

In addition, the clinic maintains a close partnership with UCF Music Department. Each year, voice majors get checked out by the clinic staff to make sure their vocal cords are in tip-top shape. 

The exam includes a look inside each student's throat. A small camera is inserted into the throat, and the images are projected onto monitors in the clinic. Lehman, along with clinicians and graduate students, evaluates the patient and makes recommendations.

"People don't realize how prevalent voice problems can be," Ruddy said. "I see a variety of professional voice users from lawyers to classroom teachers to singers. The ability to speak is more important than ever at school, in the workplace and socially. But most of us don't really know how to take care of our voice."

The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders estimates that more than 7.5 million people have a voice disorder. Smoking, drinking alcohol, shouting and poor speaking techniques also can harm the mechanisms that make the voice work. 

Ruddy is passionate about educating people about preventative care because failing to recognize symptoms that something is wrong can lead to serious trouble.

"Drinking water; eliminating harmful substances, such as smoking; treatment for reflux or allergy irritation; warming up your voice before prolonged use . . . there are a host of things you can do to keep your voice healthy," Ruddy said.

To raise awareness, the American Academy of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery created World Voice Day in 2002. Groups around the world will be holding a variety of events and activities on April 16 to educate people about keeping their voices healthy.

For more information about World Voice Day, visit http://www.entnet.org/aboutus/worldvoiceday.cfm. For more information about UCF's clinic, call 407-823-4804.

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