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VOCAL HEALTH
How To Avoid & Cope With The Voice
Actors' Fearful 'L' Word - Laryngitis

April 29, 2015

By Bobbin Beam
Voice Actress

The "L" word and the voice actor: "LĒ stands for laryngitis, and is the one thing that should strike fear into the lives of all who make a living using their voice.

As common as the condition is, many voice talents  I know have never experienced the loss of voice, or had to endure it.

Laryngiti is also called laryngeal inflammation - and hereís the definition of it according to Mayo Clinic:
"An inflammation of the voice box from overuse, irritation, or infection of the voice box (vocal fold) from overuse, irritation, or infection.Ē 
It is very common, and there are more than 3,000,000 U.S. cases each year.

Many are fortunate to never encounter laryngitis. Iíve had it three times in my life. 

One of those times was very recently, and it arrived in combination with all sorts of unwanted goodies that laid me out flat, and temporarily out of business.

WOULD NEVER HAPPEN TO ME ...

Oh! The things we take for granted.

Truth be told, in my younger and foolish days, I used to believe my strong voice would always be there, and never let me down. Years back, Iíd think nothing of going out to crowded smoky bars and sing rock and roll tunes with my pals in the bands, and of course, hanging out after the set, with late night beer swilling and a gab fest until we shut the place down.

Still, my voice was fine the next day for my 2 p.m. radio gig, which required six days a week of straight on air time.

Voice-tracking wasnít part of the radio scene in those days like it is now. These days, the jock goes in and records his/her station breaks in advance, all in about an hour, and lower-paid board-ops do the rest.

GOT MY RESPECT

Iíve become more respectful and protective of my voice over time.

Iím a sports nut, particularly enjoying NFL football. Iíve trained myself to clap loudly or do fist-pumping and high-fiving instead of screaming at the TV. And now I donít go to crowded places where thereís a lot of noisy conversation, loud music or TVs to talk over.

Iíve come to preserve and care for my instrument out of necessity, as itís the centerpiece of my livelihood.

WHEN LARYNGITIS STRIKES


The vocal "cordsĒ arenít really cords, but two mucous lined folds covering muscle and cartilage. Normally, vocal cords open and close smoothly, forming sounds though movement and vibration.

But during episodes of laryngitis, the vocal cords become inflamed or irritated. This swelling causes distortion of the sounds produced by air passing over them. As a result, the voice sounds hoarse.

In some cases of laryngitis, your voice can become almost undetectable.

Laryngitis may be short-lived (acute) or long lasting (chronic). Most cases of laryngitis are triggered by a temporary viral infection or vocal strain and arenít serious. But persistent hoarseness can sometimes signal a more serious underlying medical condition. This is when youíll need to see the otolaryngologist or ENT (Ears, Nose and Throat doctor).

WHAT I EXPERIENCED ...

The first two times I had laryngitis, there were no other symptoms. I just woke up one day and my voice was gone.

These occurred when I was living in San Diego, and one of them happened when I was booked at a studio for some commercial recording. Fortunately, the producer rescheduled instead of replacing me. 

Recovery was swift and the family had to put up with hand-written notes and hand gestures for a day or two.

The stakes are higher now as a full-time voice artist and entrepreneur. Now, there are just too many short-term auditions and rush projects every day, all depending on the ability to quickly deliver the goods.

And the goods had better be in good shape! When you have no voice, well friends, youíre just as they say, SOL.

FEVER HIJACKED MY VOICE

My third encounter with the dreaded "L" word began with chills, followed by fever, and general malaise that leveled me and hijacked my voice.

The flu-like symptoms went straight for the heart and soul of my lifeís work, my voice box.

This time it was really bad, and I was scared. I couldnít do much. I unplugged and slept up to 12 hours at a time. I wasnít hungry, turned down auditions and work, and slept some more.

What I did:
  • I observed complete vocal rest
  • Gargled with warm salt water
  • Drank about a gallon of water per day, including Throat Coat tea with slippery elm, clear juices,
  • Sucked on lemon mint Ricola lozenges, and
  • Used a steam inhaler several times a day.
WHAT I LEARNED ...

I also researched laryngitis, and tried to find out more about vocal health, preventive maintenance of the voice, and evaluated home remedies - some of which seemed kind of unappealing.

Recommended from research:
  • Donít smoke, and stay away from second-hand smoke
  • Avoid alcohol. It tends to desiccate, and in the end is dehydrating, plus itís a depressant. Iím depressed enough that I have no voice. No need to rub salt into the wound.
  • Refrain from overuse of voice, stressing it, especially yelling or screaming. You could develop nodes or polyps on your vocal folds, which could require surgery.
And most of us have heard about the botched Julie Andrews vocal surgery that never allowed her to sing again. Are you willing to risk that?  Not me!

If you perform vocally stressful work, like animation voices or in video games, be sure to give equal time to vocal rest.

Donít try to force the voice to sound normal while having laryngitis, as it can cause permanent damage.

VISITED THE DOCTOR ...

Well by the third day, the fever broke, but the dry hoarse cough remained. I still had chills and lethargy, and on the stern recommendation of my Facebook friends (along with many of their remedies) I visited my doctor.

She listened to my chest and put me on a strong antibiotic for treatment of pneumonia!  

Iím finally on the mend, save for some residual coughing and using an expectorant (guaifenesin). 

Energy is returning, and so is my vocal range, albeit slowly. Iím feeling lucky that it started during a lighter than normal work week; the week after Easter, when a lot of folks take Spring break.

Still drinking lots of water, and resting, too!

Never, never ever take your God-given voice and general health for granted.
-----------------------
ABOUT BOBBIN
Bobbin Beam has worked professionally behind the microphone since she was 18. She has been a full time voice actress for 20+ years, following a number of years in FM rock radio from Milwaukee to San Diego. Her career dreams hatched upon the living room stage at the age of four, performing "Snow WhiteĒ for her family. Before age 12, Bobbin formed an acting troupe with neighborhood kids, and wrote, directed and produced plays in the family barn. Bobbin has now returned to Wisconsin, where her career began, yet her voice is heard all over the world. When not recording, sheís a blogger, learner, cook and volunteer. She also loves singing, swimming, kayaking, reading, writing, cycling, hiking, yoga and life.

Email: bobbin@BobbinBeam.com
Web: www.BobbinBeam.com

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Comments (2)
Moe Rock
5/5/2015 at 4:42 PM
Thank you for a great article, Bobbin. I have had laryngitis often since I was a kid, but the last couple years I seem to lose my voice VERY easily. In fact I just went to a campfire party on Saturday and yup, woke up Sunday at half voice. I did see an ENT who told me it was reflux. However a year later I was still having problems, so recently I went to a GI and had an endoscopy, and an otolaryngologist and had a laryngoscopy and another scope by a speech pathologist. Well I finally have an answer. My vocal chords aren't closing all the way. There is a gap between almost HALF!! I was happy not only to have an answer, but to find out it's treatable with therapy. Goes to show you have to keep pushing till you get an answer. :)
Rosi Amador
4/29/2015 at 8:20 AM
Thank you Bobbin! I have a simple cold and am lying low and resting. You've inspired me to do a few new things. I'm grateful.
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