Is the ‘new abnormal’ troublesome for our voices?

When the lock-down was announced on March 27th, 2020, many of us began to work from home, switching to Zoom, Skype and Teams instead of our usual face-to-face interactions for work. In fact, the COVID-19 pandemic is the first time that entire nations have been asked to work from home. There is an assumption that once we have internet access and a phone everything will be fine, but we do not yet know if this new style of work, over a prolonged period, brings its own health problems.

A new study being carried out at Trinity College Dublin will investigate the effect that this new way of working is having on our voices.

The study has been launched  HERE.

Research shows that people such as call-centre workers are very prone to voice problems because of how they speak; not just because of how often they are using their voice, but also because of how intensely they are using it compared to face-to-face communication. Most often, the issue is that people raise and tense their voice when they are not face-to-face. Anecdotal evidence is currently showing that some people working from home during this pandemic have started to report similar problems with symptoms like hoarseness, or a dry, tight or lump-in-the-throat feeling.

Dr Ciaran Kenny, Department of Clinical Speech and Language Studies, Trinity College and Principal Investigator of the study said:

Our ability to communicate is something we take for granted until it’s gone. We use our voices to catch up with friends, do our jobs and sing to our kids. We use it to tell people when we feel sad, or to share a laugh. Our voices are expressive and tell the story of our personalities. Now more than ever, we need to make sure that our voices remain in good shape, so that we can continue to communicate even though we cannot be together.

The research team is conducting a national survey designed to see how many people are experiencing voice or throat problems while they work from home. The survey is aimed at those in the Republic of Ireland who have been working from home during the lockdown. The study also aims to see who is most at risk of health problems associated with the voice, during these unprecedented times. The survey link also provides information on caring for your voice.

Dr Kenny concluded:

Hoarse voice and an uncomfortable throat are caused by repeated inflammation from straining the voice. If left unchecked, this could lead to long-lasting changes in the voice-box that may need surgery or therapy to address.

If this survey finds that voice problems are more common than usual, employers might need to provide information or training to employees about how to work from home safely, even after the pandemic. It also means that educational institutions that provide distance learning might need to make sure that students are not put at risk.

The survey can be found HERE along with information on caring for your voice.