Prevalence of occupational voice disorders in teachers

M Angelillo, G Di Maio, G Costa, N Angelillo, U Barillari
Journal of Preventive Medicine and Hygiene 2009, 50 (1): 26-32

INTRODUCTION: In Italy the number of teachers among private and public schools is around one million. Voice disorders are thought to be one of the major occupational hazards of school teaching; in fact the teachers often use their voice with high-intensity, in noisy classes, for a long time and without suitable breaks. The aim of the study was to assess the prevalence of voice problems in teachers of Naples district, identifying risk factors for developing voice pathology.

METHODS: In this study we evaluated 504 teachers (322 F-182 M) with an age ranging between 24 and 62 years, randomly choiced in 28 schools of the district of Naples submitted to a questionnaire to determine the prevalence of voice disorders. In our study we have also introduced a comparison group of not-teachers workers of 402 subjects (244 F-158 M); they were in the same age range as the teacher sample (range: 22-65 years). The control group was also submitted to a questionnaire regarding sociodemographic characteristics, smoking and alcohol use, a self-report of voice problems, voice symptoms, frequency of acute and chronic voice problems, absenteeism due to voice problems.

RESULTS: The prevalence of reporting a current voice problem was significantly greater in teachers compared with not-teachers (8.7% vs 2.9%), as the prevalence of voice disorders during their lifetime too (51.4% vs 25.9%), chi2 = 86.672, p < 0.001. Women, compared with men had a higher lifetime prevalence of voice disorders. An other important data evidenced, is that 116 workers of the teachers group (23.01%) have been forced, during their professional activity, to miss job for problems related to voice; only 22 subjects of control group (5.47%) instead, missed job for voice troubles.

DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS: This study confirms that teachers have a higher rate of self-reported voice problems than subjects working in other occupations. Teachers, compared with not-teachers, were significantly more likely to have experienced multiple voice symptoms including hoarseness, discomfort while using their voice, difficulty projecting their voice and tiring or change in voice quality after short use. Large proportion of these problems may be preventable and prevention programs need to be developed and evaluated. Italian teachers do not receive any preventive voice training; that, in combination with poor hygienic work conditions, could increase health problems. Thus, voice training of teachers and teacher college students in some cases should be considered as a useful tool to prevent voice disorders.

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