The following is a quick guide to voice health.
WHAT TO AVOID
Environment – Smoke, smoking, dust and noxious chemical exposure can dry out and even burn your throat. This can lead to swelling, redness, sore throat and possible physical damage to the vocal cords along with respiratory conditions.
Dehydration – Alcohol can have a negative effect on your vocal cords through dehydration. The tissue of the larynx can dry out leading to laryngitis. As for caffeine, the jury is still out, but this is something to consider if your intake is high and your voice is in trouble. Remember that the water you drink right now doesn’t actually hydrate your vocal cords until it has been processed by the body. The key is to STAY hydrated and not wait until you’re thirsty or your throat is sore before drinking water.
Whispering – YES, whispering can be bad for your your voice. Increased laryngeal tension and vocal cord friction can dry out and strain the vocal cords leading to an even worse voice than when you started whispering. If you’re having difficulty talking, try using a ‘confidential’ tone instead of a whisper… or write it down!
Lozenges – Many cold and flu lozenges contain menthol and alcohol that might be good for your congestion but is not so great for your voice. That same clearing and drying effect can have negative effects on your vocal cords. Lozenges that contain anesthetic are even worse! These mask the pain you’re feeling and can lead people to overuse and damage their voice even further. If you must take anesthetic lozenges, no/minimal talking till the effects wear off.
Medications – Many medications, especially those for asthma and allergies, can have dry mouth (xerostomia) as a side effect. If you use such medications, take extra care of your voice and possibly increase your water intake to compensate (as long as this is approved by your physician).
Pain – Do not ‘work through’ voice pain. We’re not at the gym! No benefit can be gained from continuing to speak or sing through laryngeal pain, only further damage. If you are suffering from frequent laryngeal pain, please speak with your G.P or an Ear Nose and Throat Surgeon (a.k.a ENT / Otorhinolaryngologist)
Excessive Coughing and Throat Clearing – Your vocal cords are thin flaps of tissue, not much longer than the nail on your little finger. Coughing and throat clearing makes the vocal cords smack and grind together violently and can cause damage in the long term. Having a sip of water, a soft and very breathy cough or attempting two “hard swallows” may help clear mucus and reduce the need to cough.
Posture – Poor posture can lead to a whole host of muscular issues including excessive laryngeal tension. Try to monitor your posture during the day and keep your head straight and level when speaking.
Acid Reflux (GORD – Gastro-Oesophageal Reflux Disease)
Acid reflux/GORD/Heartburn can have a negative effect on your voice, as the stomach acids can irritate and burn the throat. If you have acid reflux, talk to your doctor about dietary changes and medication options.
Muscle tension held in the body, especially in the neck, jaw, shoulders, and chest, can lead to excess tension in the throat. This can have an adverse effect on the voice.
WHAT CAN HELP
Water takes time to hydrate your body. Remember to stay hydrated and not just drink when thirsty or when your throat is sore.
Training & Preparation
Warming up is essential for any physical activity, including voice use. Try some gentle humming and warm water gargling for a few minutes in the morning.
Reduce Background Noise
Loud environments can cause people to shout and strain their voice to be heard. Try to eliminate extraneous noise from your environment (e.g. turn off the TV, close doors, turn down music).
Reduce Your Distance
Reduce the distance between yourself and the person/people you are talking to. This will enable you to speak at a safer volume.
Use Voice Equipment
The use of a PA system or a personal microphone and speaker is an excellent way to reduce vocal demand. To avoid unnecessary vocal strain when working with a group of people, try using a bell, a whistle, or clapping to get their attention.
Steam and Sprays
Inhaling steam or the use of non-medicated sprays, may help clear the sinuses of congestion and alleviate some allergy symptoms. Open-Mouth breathing during sleep can lead to a dry, sore throat. The use of a humidifier may help reduce these symptoms.