News Release

April 10, 2008

Contact: Maureen McGuire, 860-679-4523

Helping People Get Their Voice Back: UConn Health Center’s Voice and Speech Clinic

Note: To raise awareness about voice disorders, the American Academy of Otolaryngology has designated April 16 as World Voice Day.

FARMINGTON, CONN. – Whether you are an opera singer who performs La Boheme, or a mom who reads Good Night Moon to a toddler, a strong voice is an important, and often fragile, human gift. And while a variety of physical problems can wear down a person’s voice, medical help is available to bring it back to strength.

The University of Connecticut Health Center offers a comprehensive Voice and Speech Clinic to detect, diagnose and treat voice problems. Patients undergo a thorough screening and receive individualized treatment plans, using today’s most sophisticated voice recording and visualization tools.

“There are different levels of voice use, but voice is important at every level,” explains Denis Lafreniere, M.D., director of the Voice and Speech Clinic.

UConn’s Voice and Speech Clinic offers care to musicians and performers, including professionals with the Hartford Stage Company, Connecticut Opera, and Hartt School of Music, as well as people from many other professions who rely on their voices.

“Teachers, sales representatives, ministers, lawyers, receptionists, parents – the list is lengthy,” says Dr. Lafreniere, who is an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat expert) and a specialist in head and neck surgery.

Along with Dr. Lafreniere, patients are seen by one of three voice-trained speech pathologists, Starr Cookman, Patricia Doyle or Janet Rovalino. The speech pathologists analyze the functional realm of each patient’s voice and Dr. Lafreniere focuses on contributing medical factors.

Voice disorders, he explains, fall into three categories: neurological, anatomic, and functional. Neurological disorders result from damage to the central or peripheral nervous system, such as Parkinson’s disease or strokes. Anatomic problems are caused by physical problems, such as allergies, polyps (small growths) on the larynx, or the reflux of gastric juices. Functional disorders develop when people get into the habit of using the voice abnormally, for example, while suffering from a cold that causes laryngitis.

Diagnoses and treatment plans are made after patients are evaluated by speech analysis computer software and/or videostroboscopy. Treatment plans may consist of speech therapy, surgery, or a combination of these approaches.

“The results can be dramatic. We’ve videotaped patients before and after surgery or treatment, and the improvements are astonishing,” Dr. Lafreniere says. “Our goal is to get people back to what they were doing. Most of us take our voice for granted – until we lose it,” he added.

Experts with the Voice and Speech Clinic offer the following advice for preserving one’s voice:

Drink plenty of fluids: Vocal tissues are easily dehydrated. To prevent dehydration, drink plenty of liquids, especially water. Caffeine and alcohol dehydrate tissues, so increase your water intake if you consume these substances. Maintaining proper humidity in the home is also helpful.

Avoid airborne irritants: Smoke is irritating to the throat and vocal tissues. It can cause hoarseness and other changes in the quality of the voice and can lead to tissue changes, including cancerous growths on the vocal cords that require medical or surgical treatment.

Avoid vocal abuse and misuse: Yelling, screaming, speaking at too low a pitch, and speaking or singing too loudly or for too long can result in problems such as inflammation and swelling of the vocal cords.

Treat reflux: Esophageal reflux is the regurgitation of stomach juices into the esophagus and throat. Smoking, alcohol use and caffeine intake contribute to reflux. Common symptoms include heat burn or persistent hoarseness. Reflux irritates the larynx and can lead to coughing, burning, excess mucous, and throat clearing. Over time, it can cause ulcers on the vocal cords.

Take vocal naps: Rest your voice for 15-minute intervals several times during the day, particularly if you use your voice often.

For more information about the Voice and Speech Clinic, call the Health Center at 800-535-6232.

UConn Health includes the schools of medicine and dental medicine, the UConn Medical Group, University Dentists, and John Dempsey Hospital. Home to Bioscience Connecticut, UConn Health pursues a mission of providing outstanding health care education in an environment of exemplary patient care, research and public service. More information about UConn Health is available at

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