Laryngoscopy tracks the cause of weaky, peaky, creaky old-person voice


bootcamp2015-small 2On with the mission to cure old-lady voice! I contacted Natasha Curham, a speech therapist with wide experience in helping older people.

Before accepting me as a client, Natasha advised me to visit an otolaryngologist (ear nose and throat specialist) to check the physical state of my throat. Nodules? Cancer? Gastric reflux? Scarring? Let’s see whether those working parts are in good order.

Next stop: the consulting room of Mr Peter Blake. Our conversation was enjoyable and relaxed as he drew out my history. And I do have a modest history of throat problems.

Skip the next two paragraphs: organ recital, boring

In my 30s and 40s, endless sore throats, then cough-cough-cough, perpetually clearing my throat. It drove me mad, not to mention my companions. Eventually gastric reflux was diagnosed, and I began taking the two common prescribed drugs. Which I deeply disliked. Then one day in Japan, friends casually passed me a jar of bainiku ekisu, saying, “Everyone takes this for stomach problems here.” A tiny spoon of sour plum concentrate in hot water every morning would reduce the acidity of the digestive system, and thus I was cough-cough-free for a delightful 20-odd years.

But alas, that stupid throat-clearing was creeping back. Just a little. Just now and then. And this is relevant how? Everything’s relevant because everything is connected. Constant throat clearing obviously puts stress on your throat and irritates in more ways than one.

Clinical invasion of the nasal passages

Now Peter produced some impressive equipment: a tiny flexible scope which he inserted through my nasal passages. How amazing. No guesswork necessary: he could see precisely what was happening in the depths of my throat when I spoke or sang. (Big word alert: I think this is called a nasopharyngoscope.)

His verdict follows, in brief, and in my words, not his. Errors are mine, not his. My voice is my voice.

My larynx is shaped more like a tent than a box, which means that all my life I’ve had to force my vocal chords to vibrate. Maybe like blowing a trumpet which narrows instead of flaring at the outlet. As the years go by, the muscles weaken with the strain of that additional effort.

 I laughed aloud when I heard the name of my condition: muscle tension dysphonia. So I have got ugly-voice-due-to-muscle-tension. Okaaay… now what?


Open wide! My voice is a ghost of its former self. But this ghost cafe in Featherston has been closed for years. 

 Image: Throat examination. Image via Internet Archive Book Images. Clinical lectures on the principles and practice of medicine, 1894 by Bennett, John Hughes

7 thoughts on “Laryngoscopy tracks the cause of weaky, peaky, creaky old-person voice

  1. lifecameos says:

    What strange things our physical bodies and genetics do to us ! Good luck with the voice.

  2. Thank you! This experience was a year ago, and I’ve benefited such a lot.

  3. Interested to hear what followed (and glad you commented that you are better — love to know the ending in advance!)

    1. Thanks, Kate. So you don’t mind a spoiler! Complications arise when a series like the Boot Camp gets republished a year later, but it’s worth it.

  4. I can identify with this blog Rachel. I was a singer and lost my voice from nodes on the vocal chords. Also I coughed for many years which turned out to be acid reflux. I need to avoid certain foods and occasionally take “protonics” before eating, a medication which helps. I hope your problem is solved.

    1. Oh Kayti this must have been traumatic, losing your singing voice! It sounds as if you have managed the cough, which is great. Management is what it’s all about.

  5. Bonsai says:

    I say own it like Katherine Hepburn!

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