November 08, 2011

Can What Makes a Lion Roar Help Human With a Weak Voice?

Researchers in Iowa have discovered what makes a lion or tiger roar so effectively. Apparently, there is a layer of fat within large feline vocal cords that makes the vocal cords especially prone to vibrate easily with minimal exhalation effort.

What import does this have to humans?

Well, there are patients who have a very weak voice due to vocal cord atrophy as well as vocal cord paralysis. Standard interventions include voice therapy as well as surgical procedures using an implant or injectable material in order to "bulk" up the vocal cord.

In fact... one such injectable material that has been used to inject into vocal cords is fat, typically taken from the belly of the patient!

Two points to keep in mind however...

Just like in lions and tigers, it DOES improve the vocal strength and volume to a patient who previously had a weak voice, may now have a much stronger voice after the procedure.

However, the second point is that by making the vocal cord "bulkier" you are making it thicker which can decrease the vocal pitch... just like a violin string where the thicker the string, the lower the pitch.

On another related note... human infants have fat within their vocal cords... that may be why something so small with tiny lungs can produce such a terrific loud cry!

Read a story in the NYT regarding this research here.

Adapted to Roar: Functional Morphology of Tiger and Lion Vocal Folds. PLoS ONE 6(11): e27029. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0027029
Fauquier blog
Fauquier ENT

Dr. Christopher Chang is a private practice otolaryngology, head & neck surgeon specializing in the treatment of problems related to the ear, nose, and throat. Located in Warrenton, VA about 45 minutes west of Washington DC, he also provides inhalant allergy testing/treatment, hearing tests, and dispenses hearing aids.

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