Winners stand together

“No one should have to choose between speaking and breathing,” Melanie Blauer, a communication disorders graduate student in the McKay School, concluded at the end of her Three-Minute Thesis (3MT) presentation. 3MT is a competition held at the department and college level to highlight student research through three-minute oral presentations.  

Blauer’s presentation won first place in the McKay School competition and went on to take second at the university-wide contest. Her topic: "The effects and reversibility of inhaled corticosteroids on phonation threshold pressure and phonation threshold flow in ex vivo rabbit larynges.” In layman’s terms, that’s an examination of how asthma inhalers negatively impact speaking and whether those effects can be reversed.

“1 in 8 Americans have asthma or another upper-airway disease,” Blauer said in her presentation. “Hundreds of thousands of Americans are prescribed medications every year to reduce inflammatory response and let us breathe. But, as many as 5% to 58% of users report developing vocal disorders. We wanted to know if those harmful effects are reversible.”

Working alongside fellow researchers Elizabeth Barlow and Chanel Anderson, Blauer found that when rabbit test subjects were given a resting period after inhaling corticosteroid treatments, they showed marked vocal improvement compared to rabbits without a recovery period. These results inspire hope for people with asthma who also suffer from vocal disorders or negative effects from inhaled corticosteroids.

Choosing this research topic was easy for Blauer, who says that she “was an asthmatic kid growing up. I used this medication for 10 years, so it aligned with my interests as well as personal relevance.” 

The data collection during the project was fascinating, Blauer says, but the project had even more exciting aspects for her: “After presenting, someone came up to me and she said, ‘I’m a singer and I’m asthmatic, and I was so excited for your research because whenever I use my inhaler my vocal range lessens. I complained about it to my doctor, and he said I was making it up.’ My favorite part was seeing how my research can help people.”

Blauer looks forward to seeing how the research will continue. “We are hoping to increase our sample size and see the same trends,” Blauer says. Plans are in place for the research to continue as Blauer graduates.

Writer: Alysha Rummler

Contact: Andrew Devey