Prevalence and risk factors for voice problems in priests

Irena Hocevar-Boltezar
Wiener Klinische Wochenschrift 2009, 121 (7-8): 276-81

PURPOSE: Voice problems are common in occupations with a large voice loading. Clergy are usually classified as professional voice users. The aim of our study was to investigate the prevalence of voice problems in Catholic priests and to identify some of the risk factors for their voice disorders.

METHODS: Questionnaires were sent to 600 randomly chosen Catholic parish priests and vicars in Slovenia to collect information on the prevalence and causes of voice disorders, vocal load, vocal habits, and certain diseases influencing voice quality. Data were analyzed for a total of 340 priests and in subgroups of priests with frequent voice disorders, priests without voice disorders, and priests over the age of 64.

RESULTS: Overall, 85.6% of the priests reported having voice problems during their career, 15.9 % of them experiencing frequent voice problems. Respiratory-tract infection was the most common cause of the voice problems. The following significant risk factors for frequent voice problems were identified: frequent throat clearing, vocal load during spare time, voice disorders during training and not receiving instruction on correct vocal technique. The priests without voice problems had experienced significantly fewer voice problems during their training and had less frequent throat clearing, less frequent asthma and fewer allergies than the other priests. Being over the age of 64 and teaching more than 10 hours each week were not identified as risk factors for voice disorders.

CONCLUSIONS: The prevalence of voice disorders in Catholic priests in Slovenia is high. Respiratory-tract infection is the most common cause of their voice problems. Allergies, frequent throat clearing, not receiving instruction on correct vocal use and vocal hygiene, and a history of voice problems during training were stated as risk factors for voice disorders. In order to decrease the prevalence of voice disorders in priests and in other occupations with a large vocal load, we suggest that an ENT examination before the start of training and the inclusion of information on correct use of the voice and on diseases influencing voice quality should be included as a standard part of the educational process.

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