New SHRS chair offers tips for protecting your voice at Pitt vs. Penn State game

Bernard Rousseau, who recently joined the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences as the new chair of the Department of Communication Science and Disorders, has some tips for how Pitt fans can save their voices while cheering the Panthers to victory against the Penn State Nittany Lions this weekend.

Bernard RousseauRousseau, who started in his new position on Sept. 1, comes to Pitt from Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, where he was most recently vice chair for research and director of the Laryngeal Biology Laboratory in the Department of Otolaryngology.

Vanderbilt is ranked No. 1 for audiology and speech-language pathology in the latest U.S. News & World Report rankings of the nation’s best graduate programs. Pitt ranked seventh in both categories.

Two National Institutes of Health-funded research projects are coming to Pitt with Rousseau, along with a majority of his research team from Vanderbilt, according to a news release. The first project focuses on improving outcomes for patients with unilateral vocal fold paralysis through innovative technology designed to improve pre-operative surgical planning.

The second project seeks to determine the safety and efficacy of treatments for voice disorders.

Rousseau received his undergraduate and master’s degrees from the University of Central Florida, and a doctorate in communicative disorders from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, as well as a master’s in management of health care degree from Vanderbilt.

Fall tips for maintaining vocal health and wellness


The impact of crowd noise on an opposing team’s ability to successfully execute a play on the goal line cannot be underestimated. The public-address announcer energizes the home crowd and engages fans in an incredibly inspiring effort to help fans get up out of their seats to wave towels, scream, clap, and taunt the opposing team:

Fourth and goal from the two-yard line, fans get up out of your seats and make some noise.


Rousseau recommends the following tips for protecting your voice:

  1. Be sure to use adequate breath support when projecting your voice.
  2. Avoid the use of vocal extremes, including excessive and prolonged use of the voice.
  3. Allow adequate time for your voice to recover following a period of heavy vocal use.
  4. Minimize vocally traumatic activities such as yelling and speaking over crowd noise.
  5. Use amplification. Rousseau recommends the use of those cone-shaped 8-inch plastic megaphones, such as those handed out during pep rallies in your favorite team color.
  6. Seek professional help if your voice is injured or hoarse.
  7. Persistent throat pain and hoarseness lasting more than two weeks is not normal and should be evaluated by your physician, who may refer you for additional evaluation by an otolaryngologist.

The energy that a passionate fan base brings to the stadium on game-day can be an incredible motivator that produces a true home-field advantage. Behaviors that channel and energize the defense and disrupt the timing of the quarterback can be the catalyst that prevents the opposing team from scoring.

Communication is at the foundation of our game-day experience; from the messages delivered by the P.A. announcer, to the calling of plays from the sidelines, and the transfer of vocal energy from the crowd to the players on the field. Each of these conveys an important message — a victorious shout, a colorful taunt and a rallying battle cry. The one thing that these behaviors all share in common is the use of the human voice to express emotion.

“Nothing communicates more profoundly than the human voice,” says Bernard Rousseau, professor and newly appointed chair of the Department of Communication Science and Disorders in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. “The human voice is the conduit that connects us to others. It expresses every sort of emotion, connects us in meaningful ways, and is fundamental to human existence. It’s a motor behavior that is often not fully appreciated until the ability to communicate is lost.”

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), an estimated 17.9 million U.S. adults ages 18 or older, or 7.6 percent, reported having had a problem with their voice in the past 12 months, and nearly 9.4 million (4 percent) of adults reported having a problem using their voice that lasted one week or longer during the past 12 months. These statistics are troubling.

Rousseau adds that voice, speech, language, hearing and swallowing problems are not exclusive to adults.  Nearly one in 12 (7.7 percent) children in the United States ages 3-17 has had a disorder related to voice, speech, language or swallowing in the past 12 months, nearly two to three out of every 1,000 children in the United States is born with a detectable level of hearing loss in one or both ears, and approximately 15 percent of American adults (37.5 million) over the age of 18 report some difficulty hearing, according to the NIDCD.

So as our children head back to school and we all prepare to cheer on our favorite sports teams and our Pitt Panthers to victory over the Penn State Nittany Lions this weekend, here are some tips that Rousseau shares on protecting and taking care of our voices.

Rousseau recommends managing our voices like a personal checking account. “Voice conservation measures are analogous to the management of the balance in your checking account. Establish a budget and set limits on the use of vocal extremes.”

Your vocal folds are delicate pieces of tissue that are susceptible to normal wear and tear, says Rousseau. This wear and tear can make the voice hoarse. Fortunately, most normal wear and tear is not serious at all and will resolve on its own.

However, you should consult your doctor for hoarseness lasting more than two weeks, and, according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, hoarseness that lasts longer than four weeks or that has no obvious cause, especially if you smoke, should be evaluated by an otolaryngologist, as this could be a sign of a more serious condition. Once an appropriate diagnosis has been made, you may be referred to a speech-language pathologist for voice therapy.