In this week’s episode, we are covering the topic of vocal maintenance and hygiene; how we practice healthy habits to preserve our voice. Why does this matter? Vocal health is a topic that stands out for its universal importance.
If you were contracted to voice-over a commercial, to sell to a client, to broadcast on channel-nine news, or to perform at the Super Bowl, it is of the utmost importance that you take care of your voice because that is how you make your living.
Now, if you are talking on the phone, going out with friends, speaking to your boss, or answering your child’s question, your voice is just as important. Getting through even the simplest of daily activities without a healthy voice is quite a challenge.
Just like brushing and flossing or putting on sunscreen, beginning or refining a habit of healthy vocal practices is the first step to preserving a strong and consistently solid voice throughout your life.
When we talk about vocal health, we’re observing a few things that we want to make clear to all of you:
- Jordan and I are not doctors. If you feel like something isn’t functioning properly with your voice, go see a doctor, an Ear Nose and Throat Practitioner, an Otolaryngologist ,or a speech therapist.
- The goal of The Holistic Voice is to enlighten, encourage, and empower you to know more about your voice. The themes we are going to talk about are hydration, healthy diet, general vocal health tips.
- The only one who knows your voice the best is you. Explore your voice and see how it functions best.The more information you have, the more confidence you have to practice and address questions as they arise.
So first let’s define voice:
Housed between the base of the tongue and the top of the trachea (or your windpipe), your voice is, “produced by vibration of the vocal folds, which are two bands of smooth muscle tissue that are positioned opposite each other in the larynx.” At rest, the vocal folds are open so that you can breathe. When speaking or singing however, the brain orchestrates a chain of events that snap the vocal folds together and vibrate while the air from the lungs rushes past.
To look at this another way, let’s talk about clapping your hands. When we clap, our hands come together and interrupt the surrounding air, creating a sound wave. This is what our vocal folds do in order to create sounds. They clap together, but rather than two or three times a second, they clap, on average, 200 times per second when speaking and more than 1,000 times per second during some singing.
The same factors that make your hands sore contribute to vocal fold fatigue when making sound. How long have you been talking or singing? How loud have you been speaking (how hard are the folds clapping)? Which muscles are involved? So how can you learn to recognize symptoms associated with vocal fold swelling or strain?
Is your voice healthy?
- Has your voice felt hoarse or raspy when you talk?
- Have you lost your ability to hit some high notes when singing?
- Does your voice suddenly sound deeper?
- Does your throat often feel raw, achy, or strained?
- Is it difficult to talk or have a conversation?
- Do you notice that you clear your throat quite a bit?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, then this might be an indication of a voice problem.
We must learn to be efficient and responsible with our voices. Here are some of the most common culprits of vocal fatigue and solutions on how to learn responsible vocal hygiene habits to prevent, address, and potentially reverse your voice troubles.
1. Stay Hydrated
Hydration refers to keeping the vocal folds moist on an external and internal level.
External dehydration can come from smoking, breathing dry air, breathing with your mouth open, and certain drying medications.
Solution? Re-hydrate your cords by inhaling steam from your morning hot shower, facial steamer, or hot-water vaporizer. Use a humidifier in your home, especially during the winter or in dry climates. Thirty percent humidity is recommended by the National Institute of Health.
Internal dehydration is usually brought on from too much caffeine, alcohol, drying drugs, or sweating without fluid replacement. These dry out the larynx and irritate the mucous membranes that line the throat.
Solution? Drink water! And plenty of it. Six to eight glasses is recommended by the National Institute of Health. Replace coffee, tea, and sodas with water. Hate water? Mix a small amount of juice or flavoring (lemon, mint, cucumber) into your water.
2. Maintain a healthy diet:
According to the National Association for Music Education, “singers seem to be at a higher risk for acid reflux than the average person because of the vigorous pressure changes inside the midsection of the body”.
Because of this, it’s best to stay away from foods that can cause stomach acid to move into the throat or esophagus (acid reflux): coffee, spicy foods, and citrus fruits. It’s also important not to eat late at night. Limiting alcohol consumption can also help subdue acid reflux.
Solution? Include more vegetables, whole grains, and fruits in your diet. Fruits like grapes, apples, pears, watermelon, peaches, and melons contain large amounts of water and are excellent hydrating snacks. If you feel like you are still having troubles, talk to your doctor about more strategies on how to manage your reflux.
3. Healthy habits = happy voice:
It’s important to keep in mind that our vocal folds are muscles and they get used quite often throughout the day. Any muscle you use extensively, whether you are at the gym, hiking up a trail, or running a marathon, must be given a rest and recovery period in order to prevent injury and promote longevity.
Vocal fold tissue can’t start healing until you stop speaking and singing. So, if you know you have a major performance coming up or you know you will be speaking for a long time, give your voice the proper time to prepare itself. Here are some other healthy lifestyle tips:
- STOP CLEARING YOUR THROAT: it is extremely rough on your vocal cords because it causes your lining to wear away. If you feel like you have mucous in your throat 1). Drink some water, 2.) Clear your throat with a silent “huh”
- Avoid lengthy conversations on the phone (and if you have them take a break and rest your voice 10 minutes for every two hours of talking)
- Wash your hands often to prevent getting a cold or the flu.
- Avoid mouthwash brands that contain alcohol or irritating chemicals (try non-alcoholic or a salt-water solution)
- Rest your voice and avoid talking when you’re sick. Illness puts stress on your voice because your cords are likely a bit swollen.
- If your nose is blocked, your throat will dry out from mouth breathing. Consider buying a saline spray if your nose is clogged.
By: Austin Vitaliano, The Holistic Voice: Navigating Your Life as a Vocalist
Physicians trained in the medical and surgical management and treatment of patients with diseases and disorders of the ear, nose, throat (ENT), and related structures of the head and neck.
 “Taking Care of Your Voice.” National Institute of Deafness and OtherCommunication Disorders (NIDCD). June 15, 2018. Accessed December 02, 2018. https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/taking-care-your-voice#6,1.
 Ibid., 2.
 Megan Walker, M.S. CCC-SLP, CERT. VOCOLOGY. “Vocal Health.” Voice ScienceWorks. Accessed December 02, 2018. https://www.voicescienceworks.org/vocal-health.html,3.
 Ibid., 4.
 “Taking Care of Your Voice.” National Institute of Deafness and OtherCommunication Disorders (NIDCD). June 15, 2018. Accessed December 02, 2018. https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/taking-care-your-voice#6,4.
 Ibid., 7.
 Boghossian, Juliet. “Top 7 Tips for a Healthy Voice Box with Longevity.” Top 7 Tips for a Healthy Voice Box with Longevity. April 25, 2018. Accessed December 02, 2018. https://nafme.org/top-7-tips-for-a-healthy-voice-box-with-longevity/, 4.