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ETSU researcher receives NIH grant to study new treatments for vocal fatigue

Contributed • Aug 23, 2019 at 6:00 PM

A researcher at East Tennessee State University received a three-year, $407,000 area grant  from the National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders - National Institutes of Health to study a novel approach to treating vocal fatigue.

“Vocal fatigue is a term people use to describe the feeling of their voice getting tired. It is typically experienced by professional voice users such as teachers, singers, clergy or theater actors,” said Dr. Chaya Nanjundeswaran Guntupalli, associate professor in the Department of Audiology & Speech-Language Pathology in the College of Clinical and Rehabilitative Health Sciences.

“In fact, 18-33% of teachers experience vocal fatigue, with female teachers at a higher risk than males.”

Guntupalli, who has worked in CCRHS for nine years, has spent her career as a Speech-Language Pathologist studying vocal fatigue. As part of her earlier research, she developed a Vocal Fatigue Index, which is a series of 19 questions to help identify whether people have vocal fatigue.

Her index has been recognized by the Editor’s Best Paper award in a prestigious peer-reviewed journal. It has been translated into many different languages and is being used around the world.

She has also conducted research that borrows principles from exercise physiology science, applying it to vocal science to understand mechanisms underlying vocal fatigue.

Guntupalli captured gas exchange data to identify the pattern of oxygen consumption and metabolic fuel used during vocal task performance in individuals with and without vocal fatigue. The pattern of oxygen consumption provided an understanding of mechanisms underlying vocal fatigue.

Individuals with vocal fatigue relied on muscle resources to complete the vocal task, while cardiovascularly fit, vocally healthy individuals, relied on oxygen resources to complete the vocal task.

This discovery led to Guntupalli’s NIH proposal to utilize a novel, yet unintuitive approach to the treatment of vocal fatigue. By using a cardiovascular conditioning protocol in comparison to voice production exercises, Guntupalli hopes her research will provide new insight to treat vocal fatigue. Her study will focus on teachers.

“A common debilitating symptom experienced by teachers is vocal fatigue, impacting their occupational performance and increasing health care costs,” Guntupalli said. “It is imperative to identify potential treatment options to alleviate the experience of such symptoms.”

“We are proud of Dr. Guntupalli’s work, which is used and respected by researchers around the world,” said Dr. Don Samples, CCRHS dean.

“Not only will her NIH grant help advance the science in her field, it will also provide invaluable opportunities for students in ETSU’s College of Clinical and Rehabilitative Health Sciences to engage in important research.”

To learn more about the Department of Audiology & Speech-Language Pathology, visit www.etsu.edu/crhs/aslp.

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