World Voice Day: Here's how puberty affects speech

Apr 16, 2018, 18:42 IST |

We all have heard about puberty and voice changes, but do you know why it happens and how?

World Voice Day

Puberty, with its voice changes among other things, can be a stressful time for teens, but understanding more about the process can help everyone cope with the situation.

The larynx, commonly called the voice box, is an organ in the top of the neck involved in BREATHING, PRODUCING SOUND, AND PROTECTING THE TRACHEA AGAINST FOOD ASPIRATION. The larynx houses the VOCAL CORDS and manipulates pitch and volume , which is essential for phonation. These vocal chords, also known as vocal folds, are dual strips of cartilage and other tissues in the voice box. The vocal folds vibrate to produce the basic sounds. We modify these sounds with our mouths to make words. The longer and thicker the vocal chords are, the lower pitched the sounds are.

When you speak, our voice is produced. The air is forcibly moved through our throat and vocal cords. Our mouth and tongue play a part in forming words, but it is our pair of vocal cords that influences how deep or how high the tone of our voice is. If you've ever plucked a small, thin rubber band, you've heard the high-pitched twang it makes when it's stretched. A thicker rubber band makes a deeper, lower-pitched twang. It's the same sort of thing with vocal cords.

Anatomy of the LarynxAnatomy of the Larynx

How Puberty Affects Voice

We all have heard about puberty and voice changes, but do you know why it happens and how? Before you reach puberty, your larynx is pretty small and your vocal cords are kind of small and thin. That's why your voice is higher than an adult's. These changes in the larynx are all related to the increasing amounts of testosterone or hormonal changes during puberty.

The changes in the larynx typically result in a decrease in pitch in both males and females. On average, the male voice deepens by one octave while the female voice lowers by a few semitones.

Changes during puberty include enlargement of the larynx for both sexes. However, the larynx descends and grows significantly larger in males which often results in a visible laryngeal prominence on the neck (Adam’s Apple). Additionally, male vocal folds become longer and thicker and resonant cavities become larger. These changes contribute to a deepening of the voice characteristic of males.

But many a times this doesn’t happen so easily or readily. This kind of Speech and VOICE disorder is called as PUBERPHONIA.

Puberphonia is characterized by the failure to transition into the lower pitched voice of adulthood with atypical high pitch. Common symptoms include a weak, breathy, or hoarse voice as well as a low vocal intensity, pitch breaks, and shallow breathing.

Puberphonia (also known as mutational falsetto or functional falsetto) is a type of voice disorder characterized by the habitual use of a high-pitched voice after puberty. Typically, individuals with puberphonia do not present with underlying anatomical abnormalities. Instead, the disorder is usually psychogenic in nature and stems from inappropriate use of the voice mechanism. The habitual use of a high pitch while speaking is associated with tense muscles surrounding the vocal folds.

To determine puberphonia, a complete voice assessment including medical and diagnostic evaluations is recommended. These assessments are performed by Otorhinolaryngologists and Speech-language pathologists & VOICE THERAPIST.

In some cases when traditional voice therapy is ineffective, surgical interventions are considered. This can occur in situations where intervention is delayed or the patient is in denial, causing the condition to become resistant to voice therapy.

Written by Dr Bakul Parulkar, Hon. Cons. Audiologist, Speech & Voice Therapist at Jaslok Hospital & Research Center

Also Read: Cellular Therapy Helps 11-Year-Old Paralysed Girl's Speech And Stance

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