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Cheering For Your Favorite Team? For Crying Out Loud, Go Easy On Your Voice

Fall is a time of year when many high school and college students will predictably develop lifelong -- and sometimes irreversible -- injuries to their vocal cords.

Physicians and speech therapists are their busiest during the fall months and most of the vocal cord injuries they see are preventable, according to Dr. Arick Forrest, a voice disorders specialist at Ohio State University Medical Center.

"It's not uncommon to find nodules or polyps on the vocal cords of people who have strained or misused their voice," said Forrest. "Some can be treated with rest, medication or therapy while others will require surgery."

Forrest, who directs one of a handful of academic voice centers in the country, says every fall he will treat a sports fan who loses his or her voice as the result of vigorous screaming and yelling during a game. It also doesn't help that the cool, damp fall weather creates a harsh environment for the vocal cords.

"If they are lucky, their voice will return with rest and therapy, but some will have polyps on their vocal cords, which will require surgery."

Forrest says fans should try to plan five to 10 minutes of ôquiet timeö during a game to rest their voice. "But if you feel your voice getting strained or if you hear a 'pop,' stop yelling immediately." He also advises to be careful how you yell. "When we try to articulate and yell at the same time --  in other words say words or phrases as you yell -- that's much harder on the vocal cords than just holding out a single tone."

For most people, however, damage to their vocal cords is insidious and occurs over a period of time. They associate symptoms such as occasional hoarseness or a cracking voice with a cold or change of weather when in actuality they're signs of recurring swelling or irritation to the vocal cords.

Warm drinks can help vocal cords relax and recover from stress, but avoid drinks -- warm or cold -- that contain caffeine, according to Forrest.

Other tips to safeguard your voice include staying away from cigarettes and alcohol and avoiding prolonged talking in noisy places.

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