Voice Wellness Clinic Offers Solutions To Problems Of Voice, Plans Expansion

January 22, 1999

CHAPEL HILL -- Do you have chronic hoarseness? Lose your voice after talking for an hour? Feel throat pain or discomfort while talking or afterward? Experience vocal cord spasms?

If you've answered "yes" to any of these questions or have other voice problems, consider checking out the Voice Wellness Clinic at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

"We work with people who use their voices on a daily basis to do their jobs," said Dr. Ellen Markus, a speech pathologist at UNC Hospitals' Voice Wellness Clinic, who earned her doctorate in vocal music. "That includes teachers, lawyers, receptionists, airline attendants and pastors as well as professional singers."

Clinical specialists use a comprehensive team approach to vocal disorders, Markus said. Dr. Mark Weissler, professor of surgery in otolaryngology, head and neck surgery at UNC-CH, and other specialists provide surgical and medical solutions.

"Depending on the problem, we might bring in specialists from a variety of fields including neurology, pulmonology and gastroenterology," she said.

One vocal problem Weissler specializes in treating is called spasmodic dysphonia, a condition where the vocal cords (or folds) spasm shut, making it almost impossible for a person to speak. Patients are injected every few months with Botulinum toxin (BOTOX), Weissler said.

The Botulinum toxin weakens or relaxes any muscle it comes in contact with, thereby preventing vocal cords from going into spasm. Although no cure exists for spasmodic dysphonia, the BOTOX treatment provides excellent relief.

"People with this problem are so grateful for the treatments," Markus said. "They'd try just about anything!"

"At the last BOTOX clinic we treated 17 patients, which is a new record for us," Weissler said.

Since its inception in 1992, the Voice Wellness Clinic has treated a steadily increasing patient population. The majority of our patients receive voice therapy, Markus said. "We're teaching people how to use their voices more efficiently -- how to relax overworked muscles, how to breathe better, and how to balance the muscles of the vocal cords."

In the past 20 years, the specialty has grown enormously, Markus said. "Voice care and medical management is a very exciting new field."

This month she coordinated the opening of a pediatric voice wellness clinic with Drs. Chapman McQueen and Weissler of otolaryngology and Kristen Brackett of speech pathology. She's also working on a WorldWide Web page for the Voice Wellness Clinic.

People can help protect their voices just as they can boost other forms of health.

To maintain a strong voice, Markus recommends drinking six to eight glasses of water daily, limiting caffeine and alcohol, not smoking, avoiding frequent coughing and throat clearing, not yelling or screaming and avoiding speaking over loud noise.
Note: Markus can be reached at 919-966-6493, Weissler at 966-6484.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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