Caring for Your Voice
As the warmer months approach, many of us will experience increased social opportunities: concerts, barbeques, sporting events, family reunions, and the list goes on. These activities increase the amount we use our voice, whether it’s catching up with friends around a campfire, singing along with a favorite band at a concert, or cheering at a baseball game. Without meaning to, we may be using our voice in a way that is unsafe or unhealthy. Let’s learn a bit about how voice works and what we can do to care for it.
How the Voice Works. The vocal folds, sometimes referred to as vocal cords or the voice box, are a set of delicate folds of tissue located in the throat. When we exhale, air passes by the vocal folds and causes them to vibrate, which allows us to speak, sing, and produce other vocal sounds. We can change our pitch and volume by changing the length and tension of the vocal folds and the amount of breath support we use.
Overuse and Misuse of the Voice. Increased talking, singing, yelling, and screaming can overwork the vocal folds. This can result in a variety of symptoms, including a sore throat; a hoarse, raspy or rough voice; decreased volume or pitch range; vocal weakness; or a breathy, weak or strained voice. It is important to monitor for these symptoms and care for the voice to avoid further irritation or potential long-term concerns.
Vocal Irritants. Smoking and exposure to airborne irritants, such as dust, smoke, and chemicals, and acid reflux, can irritate the vocal folds. Seasonal allergies can cause the vocal folds to become inflamed and increase mucus production. (Milk and chocolate can also do this!)
How to Care for Your Voice. Eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly, and get plenty of rest. Get enough water or other fluids. Avoid excessive intake of alcohol or caffeinated beverages. Stop smoking. Maximize relaxation throughout your body. Talk in an easy manner, initiating vocal tones smoothly and effortlessly. Use your optimal pitch and loudness. Avoid shouting, screaming, and yelling. Avoid speaking in noisy environments, where you must increase your volume to compete with background noise. Use amplification when necessary. Conserve your voice before an event requiring increased speaking or singing.
When is it Time to Rest Your Voice? If you experience any symptoms of overuse/misuse of the voice, take time to rest your voice. Avoid singing, talking, and whispering as much as possible to allow the voice to heal. Drink plenty of water. If you find yourself clearing your throat frequently, try to replace this behavior with sips of water. Get to know your medications, as some medications can cause increased dryness. If symptoms of vocal overuse/misuse persist or worsen, seek medical attention. A more serious issue may be present that requires a specialized medical evaluation and/or the services of a speech-language pathologist.
Katelyn O’Neill, MS, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist at SVMC Outpatient Rehabilitation, part of Southwestern Vermont Medical Center and Southwestern Vermont Health Care in Bennington.