By LOUISE CARR, Featured Columnist
Do you feel like you have lost your voice? We’re not talking about the hoarse throat that goes with the common cold, but a permanent softening of your tone and a quiet voice that hardly anyone can hear. Speaking softly can be caused by a variety of things; sometimes it is personal choice, often it is a symptom of depression or social anxiety, and sometimes it is due to Asperger’s or another syndrome.
Many people who speak softly are frustrated when no one can understand what they are saying, even when they feel like they are talking normally.
Often, talking louder can feel like screaming and can hurt the vocal cords. If you speak softly, is there anything you can do? What causes a soft or quiet voice and are there any remedies that can help?
Speaking Softly Due to Dysarthria
Medically speaking, a soft voice is often characterized as "dysarthria".
This condition is a motor speech disorder and it comes about due to an impairment in the muscles used for speech.
If you have dysarthria your speech may be very quiet, slurred, mumbled, slow, or with an abnormal pitch.
People suffering from this condition may not be able to speak louder than a whisper.
Dysarthria is caused by a condition that damages the brain, and this can include stroke, brain injury, Parkinson’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Huntington’s disease, or multiple sclerosis. Some medications ( carbamazepine,narcotics and phenytoin) or may cause dysarthria.
Depression and Social Anxiety Can Cause Soft Speaking
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, social anxiety is an extreme fear of being judged or scrutinized by people in social situations.
This type of anxiety can result in a withdrawal from social situations, depression, and extremely disrupted daily life.
If you have this type of anxiety, you are not alone. Around 15 million adults in the US have social anxiety disorder, and one of the signs can be an inability or lack of desire to speak loudly.
In addition, people often speak more softly when they have suffered a traumatic event, when they are suffering from depression, or when they are unsure in a situation.
A 1993 study by the University of Maryland found that speaking low and soft helped to cancel out the heightened levels of emotion that are normally found when people talk about sad or depressing events – speaking low and soft helped people in the study feel calmer and more in control when relating stories about sad or depressing times of their lives.
Speaking softly may be a conscious choice but it can also be caused by impairment in the muscles that allow you to speak.
We looked at recent scientific studies to see how a soft speaking voice can be remedied.
1. Speech Therapy for a Soft Speaking Voice
Treatment for dysarthria includes speech therapy that can improve breath support so you can speak more loudly, strengthen muscles for better pitch, and improve sound so that your speech is clearer.
A 2004 study by the Institute of Neurology in the UK looked at treatments for dysarthria in Parkinson’s disease.
Researchers found that traditional speech therapy can be helpful for dysarthria and that “intensive programs have had substantial beneficial effects on vocal loudness.”
A 2013 study from Newcastle University in the UK also found that intensive speech therapy was “associated with gains in intelligibility and communicative interactions for some younger children with dysarthria.” The study looked at 15 children with cerebral palsy.
2. Orofacial Myofunctional Therapy Can Help Speech in Dysarthria
Dysfunctions in any area of your mouth or face --- so-called "orofacial myofunctional disorders"--- can also make you speak too softly.
A myofunctional therapist works with other team members such as dentists, orthodontists, and osteopaths to treat these disorders.
A 2002 study from Washington State University found that orofacial myofunctional therapy in dysarthria helped improve speech intelligibility.
3. Treat Social Anxiety Disorder to Increase Vocal Loudness
A 2014 study by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health shows that talk therapy and not medication is best for treating social anxiety disorder, and bringing the voice to a more normal level.
The research shows that cognitive behavioral therapy is more effective than antidepressant medication and has longer lasting effects.
This was a big study which looked at data from 13,164 people enrolled in 101 clinical trials, all of whom had severe and long-lasting social anxiety.
4. Use of a Prosthesis Improves Vocal Loudness in Dysarthria
The use of a palatal lift and palatal augmentation device helped to improve dysarthria in patients, according to a 2000 study from The Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Ohio.
The study looked at people who suffered speaking problems due to "amyotrophic lateral sclerosis", a neuro-degenerative disorder.
A total of 25 patients in the study were fitted with a prosthesis and evaluated to find out if their speech improved. Of these, 21 patients who were fitted with the prosthesis noticed improvements in their speaking ability, while the majority said it was easier to speak with less effort.
5. Protein-rich Tryptophan Can Help Raise the Voices of Social Anxiety Sufferers
Protein-source tryptophan can effectively treat social anxiety disorder, and improve speaking voice, according to a 2007 study from the Whitby Mental Health Centre in Canada.
Tryptophan is an amino acid found in turkey, meat, cheese, fish, eggs, and yogurt.
In the study, participants consumed tryptophan with carbohydrate, or carbohydrate on its own.
Tryptophan combined with carbohydrate resulted in significant improvements in anxiety, which could be a way of increasing speaking volume.
6. Muscle Training as a Remedy for Soft Speaking
A 2015 study from Taipei Medical University in Taiwan looked at the effects of muscle strength training on the voices of medical professionals with voice disorders.
Researchers looked at 29 people working in a hospital using their voice for more than four hours a day and suffering from a voice disorder, and discovered that vocal muscle training significantly improved the quality of the voice.
7. Tips When You or a Friend Speak Softly
The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association says that if you suffer from dysarthria or a soft speaking voice it helps when you introduce your topic of conversation with a single word, before you begin to speak.
You should check with the listener that they are able to understand you, and speak slowly.
The listener should reduce any distractions or background noise, pay close attention, and watch the speaker as they talk.
If they cannot understand any part of the conversation they should say so, and if the message doesn’t become clearer, ask yes or no questions until an understanding is reached.