Keeping Your Voice Healthy - Avoid Vocal Damage
How Throat Clearing Damages Your Voice
Once you get used to the throat clearing, it becomes behavioral. The more you clear your throat, the more you'll feel like you need to clear it. "It's hard to know when it crosses that line," Dr. Phillip Song, a Laryngologist at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in Boston, told NBC News:
"Your throat and vocal cords take repeated abuse with constant clearing," said Rotskoff, "The resulting inflammation only reinforces the urge to clear and the cycle continues. Even if you don't feel discomfort there can be lasting damage to your throat and voice."
Allergy expert Dr. Brian Rotskoff of the Clarity Allergy Center in Chicago believes that too much habitual throat clearing harms the throat and vocal cords if left untreated.
10 Major Causes Of Vocal Damage And Abuse
You may be surprised to learn how everyday habits may end up damaging your voice. For the singer and speaker it pays to know what these habits are. Prevention is the best way to go. Take a look at the following list of causes for most vocal damage:
- Clearing the throat
- Singing too high (or too low) - vocal strain
- Extreme tension
- Vocal Fry (When the vocal cartilages squeeze together very tightly)
- Overuse of the voice (speaking/singing)
- Smoking (primary and secondary)
- Medications that dry the voice (antihistamines, pain medications.)
- Consuming caffein which drys out the vocal folds.
Drink Plenty of Water to Protect Your Voice
Tips For A Healthy Singing And Speaking Voice
- Drink plenty of water. Avoid ice or cold water prior to singing as this restricts the vocal cords. Stick with room temperature water. The vocal cords must be kept lubricated.
- Avoid dairy products. All dairy causes phlegm (mucous.)
- Cut back or avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks. These are drying to the vocal bands. It's important to keep the vocal cords lubricated.
- Rest the voice after long sessions of speaking or singing.
- Do not try to sing when you are ill or suffer from a sore throat.
- Inhale steam to lubricate a dry, irritated throat.
- Avoid whispering to prevent and eliminate vocal fatigue.
- Use a vaporizer if you live in a dry climate or the air in your bedroom is very dry. Place the vaporizer about two feet away from your nose when sleeping.
- For a dry throat ue glycerin based lozenges.
- Going in and out of changing climates is irritating to the vocal cords. Wear a scarf around the neck in colder weather.
What To Do If You Suspect Vocal Damage
If you suspect vocal damage:
- Stop using your voice period. Take a day off from speaking. Rest the voice.
- Avoid whispering.
- Increase your intake of water to keep the vocal folds hydrated.
- Steam inhalation also hydrates the the vocal folds.
- See your doctor as soon as possible.
The Role of a Laryngologist
A laryngologist is a medical doctor specializing in voice disorders (ENT.) After a physical examination which includes a scope exam, further tests may be needed including xrays, a biopsy or an endoscopic examination.
An additional test known as an LEMG (laryngeal electromyography) may be in order for determining vocal fold function.
Photo Of A Vocal Polyp
Signs of Possible Vocal Damage And Abuse
Some signs of vocal damage and abuse include:
- Laryngitis - hoareseness or a croaking sound including a complete loss of the voice
- Vocal fatigue
- A deepening of the voice
- Throat pain, especially during performance
- Vocal cord polyps
Note: Laryngitis can also be caused by a virus, acid reflex, allergies, or exposure to cigarette smoke and alcohol.
Always visit your doctor if you suspect vocal damage or vocal abuse.
Important Information To Test Your Voice
Foods To Avoid Before Singing
A healthy body is a healthy voice. Have you ever thought about the connection between your body and your singing?
Your body is your musical instrument. Unlike a guitar, violin, trumpet and other instruments, you do not have a case for your voice. There's no way to protect your singing instrument. When you're finished singing you don't have the luxury of laying your instrument in a protective area where it will be safe from the elements until you are ready to use it again.
What is my point? The only way to keep your singing instrument (your body) healthy is by adhering to proper diet and heart-healthy exercise. You've heard it all before - feed your body nutritious food and keep it moving. Exercise is crucial to a good vocal performance. I often require my vocal students to run in place before starting a lesson. And if their singing is monotonous and boring running in place brings energy and vitality to their voice.
Foods to avoid before singing:
- Coffee, Tea (with caffeine)
- Cheese (all kinds)
- Ice Cream
- Frozen Yogurt
- All frozen products such as popsicles
- Cold drinks including water. (room-temperature only)
- All medications drying to the throat.
Foods Causing Mucous And Phlegm In The Throat
What is your favorite kind of music to sing?
If you actually relax your vocal cords they actually work better. Alfonso Ribeiro
Facts About Your Voice You May Not Know
Here are a few facts about your voice you probably don't know. I hope you'll find them interesting and some may even be useful for understanding how the voice works:
- The voice is amplified and becomes audible through spaces in the throat, mouth and nose.
- The average speaking pitch for women is 'g' below middle 'c' and for men it's 'c' below middle 'c'.
- More than 100 muscles work together when we sing or speak one single phrase.
- The maximum length of the vocal folds is 16mm for an adult male and about 10mm for an adult female.
- The correct term for vocal cords is vocal folds.
- Your vocal range is determined by the size of your vocal folds (cords.) The larger your folds the lower your voice and the smaller your vocal folds the higher your voice.
- The average vocal range is 3 and 1/3 octaves. That's considered a big range.
- When you sing, sound comes out of your mouth at approximately 75 miles per hour. It's 1/2200, from the time the sound is made till it exits your mouth.
- The oldest known account of singing is 3rd millinium B.C.
- Singing releases endorphins which can help you feel happier instantly.
- Humming will opne the sinus cavities.
Recommended Reading - About The Voice
Vocal folds used to be called vocal cords (and are still often referred to that way) because it was thought that they vibrated much like strings on a violin. This has been shown to be untrue. Read more...
Healthy singing stems from a healthy body. Nourish yourself with exercise, movement, nature and nutrition. Your body will respond in ways that will surprise you.
- Each day hydrate your body with plenty of water. Add lemon or fruit if you like.
- Avoid all yelling, screaming or overly loud conversation.
- Avoid caffeine, cold drinks, alcohol and dairy products before singing.
- Do not eat one hour before singing.
- Avoid throat-drying medications.
- Inhale steam to relieve sinus problems.
- Gargle with warm salt water to calm a sore throat.
- Sing within your vocal range. All high notes should feel easy and comfortable.
- Maintain a positive attitude when singing.
- No smoking
Carolyn Sloan, author of "Finding Your Voice" gives us this good advice: "Remember your true voice can only be arrived at with a relaxed concentration and careful attention to individuality.
There is no perfect voice. There is no such thing as 'recipe singing.' Meaning, a given exercise may be good for one but not for another. You are your best teacher. We are each one-of-a-kind instruments. Learn to celebrate that. Trust it and let go."
Thank you for being here. I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.
Resources and Suggested Reading
: Titze, Ingo R. 1994. Principles of Voice Production. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, Inc., p. 178. (length of vocal folds)
© 2016 Audrey Hunt