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Yelling on game day can cause Packer polyps: Doctor

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Anna Marie Lux
January 4, 2014

MADISON--Never mind the winning touchdown pass with less than a minute remaining.

You won't hear Seth Dailey yelling with ear-piercing volume at or for his team, even though he considers himself a faithful Packer fan.

The doctor who specializes in voice, airway and swallowing disorders knows what can happen when fans spend much of the season screaming at the TV or in the flesh at Lambeau Field.

Hoarseness.

A rough or scratchy voice.

A lump-in-the-throat sensation.

“We at the voice clinic have long been aware of people coming in with voice problems following sports events, especially after Aaron Rodgers' clavicle problem,” he said.

Dailey is chief of laryngology at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, and he coined the condition “Packer polyps.”

Packer polyps are caused by abuse of the vocal cords, which are more accurately described as vocal folds.

“People think of a vocal cord as a rope, which is not reflective of how it looks and how it works,” he explained. “When you think of a cord, you think of something you can pull with some level of abandon.”

Dailey explained that the vocal folds make up a v-shaped valve that comes together to help us breathe, cough and expel things from the lungs.

The folds also move together to make sound. Without them, we could not talk.

The superficial part of the vocal fold is soft, almost like a gelatin layer, which acts as nature's shock absorber.

Too much screaming can cause blood vessels to burst in the vocal fold.

“What someone will notice almost immediately is that the voice goes out,” Dailey said. “There's nothing wrong with yelling, but be aware of it. If you are hoarse the day after or a week later, it signals a problem. It depends on how loud, how much and how often you yell. It is a cumulative thing.”

He suggests alternatives to hollering, such as ringing cow bells, clapping or even whistling.

“Packer fans are very creative with their costumes,” Dailey said, “so they can be equally creative in generating things that make noise. If you don't start somewhere, change never happens.”

He points out modern living forces people to use their voices more than they ever have before in human history.

“Two-thirds of the workers in the United States have jobs that require them to use their voices,” Dailey said. “If they have no voices, they have no jobs. We live in a communication-based society. Anyone with a voice problem will tell you how debilitating it is.”

Dailey is raising awareness about the enormous strains and demands put on our voices.

“We have no training in voice or oration when we enter jobs,” he said. “I suspect that someday we will learn how to care for our voices, if we are smart.”

On game day, several factors may encourage louder and longer yelling.

The first is alcohol because drinking makes fans less inhibited.

“We stop being quiet and reserved,” Dailey said. “People exert more force on their vocal folds than under normal circumstances.”

Dailey also explains that fans yell louder in bars and stadiums than in their living rooms.

“We view getting loud as being a good fan,” Dailey said. “If you are at home, you are much less likely to yell as loud or as often.”

He said the Seattle Seahawks has the loudest stadium, where the NFL has measured 137.6 decibels on game day, which is louder than a jet engine.

Dailey doesn't think Packer fans are any noisier than other fans, but he thinks they have their own brand of fervor.

For people with voice problems, even if they are not Packer fans, Dailey has timely advice:

“If you are embarrassed by your voice or have noticed changes in it, get a good evaluation,” he said. “You can get help. We take voice production for granted, but it has never been more important in human history for surviving.”

Anna Marie Lux is a columnist for The Gazette. Her columns run Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call her with ideas or comments at (608) 755-8264, or email amarielux@gazettextra.com.



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