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Home working could be giving you a sore throat by forcing you to raise or strain your voice

Working from home is giving people a sore throat, scientists claim, because they are having to continuously raise and strain their voices during Zoom meetings.  

Researchers from Trinity College Dublin surveyed 1,575 people on the number of times they have suffered from a hoarse voice or vocal tract discomfort since coronavirus lockdown.

More people began working from home rather than offices as a result of measures to slow the spread of coronavirus, leading to a spike in the use of video calls.

As a result of people 'raising their voices' to be heard in online meetings, the rate of throat issues increased - with 85 per cent of those surveyed developing issues since lockdown began.  

The study's lead author, Ciarán Kenny said the research indicates that workplaces should consider voice training for employees to limit potential difficulties.  

Researchers from Trinity, College Dublin surveyed 1,575 people on times they have suffered from a hoarse voice or vocal tract discomfort since coronavirus lockdown

The global COVID-19 pandemic caused many countries to adopt measures to 'flatten the curve', primarily through the introduction of social or physical distancing. 

During the first lockdown, many countries banned people from travelling to work unless it was an essential service that couldn't be carried out from home. 

Change of workplace venue saw increased use of telecommunication, with many firms adopting video calling technologies to stay in touch with employees. 

Video conferencing and remote working apps, such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams, saw a huge boost in user numbers as a result of work from home orders.  

Self-perceived voice difficulties adversely affect quality of life, the Irish team said, adding that they also affect individuals' occupational performance and prospects.

Out of the 1,575 people involved in the study, 516 reported issues with their throats at the time the survey was completed on June 19, 2020. 

Of that subset, 86 per cent said they had no issues with their throat before lockdown measures were introduced, but only five per cent had no issues while working from home during lockdown - only developing a sore throat after returning to the office.

Of those who developed a problem since lockdown began, 72 per cent reported mild problems and 22 per cent reported moderate problems with their throat.   

Self-perceived voice difficulties adversely affect quality of life, the Irish team said, adding that they also affect individuals' occupational performance and prospects. 

Voice difficulties are linked to people taking time off work, considering a career change and limits on how they can do their job or interact with colleagues. 

The widespread introduction of home working during the global pandemic may have led to much of the workforce being placed at higher risk of developing occupational voice problems and associated vocal tract discomfort, the researchers said.

'This study was predicated upon the fact that difficulties may be encountered while working from home, rather than in a regular workplace environment,' they said.

'It was therefore notable that increasing telephone and video use compared to the prelockdown period was also associated with new onset vocal tract discomfort.' 

They found that those who used video calling the least while working from home were more likely to develop a hoarse throat than those who used it frequently.

'The reason for this is unknown and bears further examination. It could be the case for example that those who do not rely on video calling instead use the telephone and that this is more vocally harmful,' the team said.

The widespread introduction of home working during the global pandemic may have led to much of the workforce being placed at higher risk of developing occupational voice problems and associated vocal tract discomfort, the researchers said

Information about participants’ use of tools like hands-free kits, free-standing microphones and headsets were collected as part of this study. 

'An analysis of their influence on voice and vocal tract discomfort would be lengthy and so will be reported in a separate study,' the team said.

People who said they had to raise or strain their voices during telephone or video calls were most likely to develop a new sore throat or other issues and get it worse than others, having a greater impact upon their lives. 

The team said there are interventions to reduce the impact, such as vocal hygiene programs for those using telecommunication devices.

Firms should start with building awareness of maladaptive speaking patterns before correcting those behaviours, akin to how traditional voice therapy works, they said.

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