Senator Jeff Merkley made news recently for speaking all night against Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. Could talking for so long temporarily or permanently damage a person's voice or vocal cords?

— Just Curious

 

Speaking for an excessively long period of time could cause irritation to the vocal folds, commonly known as vocal cords, but is unlikely to cause permanent damage, says Rebecca Clark Carey, head of voice and text at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., began talking on the Senate floor Tuesday evening and didn't stop until 15-plus hours later. His talking marathon was similar to the theatrics of actor Jimmy Stewart in the classic film "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington."

"Speaking for 15 consecutive hours would almost certainly irritate the vocal folds, causing them to swell and become tender," said Clark Carey. "The speaker would probably have a sore throat and diminished vocal capacity for up to two or three days afterwards. Vocal rest would be recommended."

She added, "It is not likely, however, that this would cause permanent damage. Vocal nodules develop in response to long term vocal misuse, and more dramatic forms of damage, such as blistering, occur when the voice is used violently."

As part of her job at OSF, Clark Carey teaches actors how to use their voices properly to avoid strain and injury.

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