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VOCAL HEALTH
10 Ways To Prevent Harming Your Voice

... Including When To See Your Doctor

January 29, 2015

By Dory Rigopoulos Kafoure, M.A., CCC-SLP      
Speech Pathologist / Voice Coach / Singing Rehab Specialist     

What could be more important than keeping your voice healthy?

Letís first talk about the natural state of the vocal folds.

Optimally, there is always a thin layer of mucus at the vocal folds. This thin layer is needed to keep the vocal folds working in a healthy manner. 

If the body isnít sufficiently hydrated, the mucus doesnít get thinner as you might think. It gets thicker, which in turn causes the vocal folds to work harder to execute movement and vibrate.

Preventing a voice issue is much easier than waiting until you have an issue and then trying to resolve it.

So what can you do to keep your voice healthy and ready to perform at its most optimal level?

1. HYDRATE

Drinking lots of water is a must.

Keep in mind that the water you drink will lubricate your mouth and throat, but never touches the vocal cords. This is because the vocal cords lie above the trachea. Water goes down your esophagus. 

The vocal folds are a low priority organ, which means you must keep your intake of water at a high level (6-8 eight ounce glasses/day) to ensure your vocal cords receive hydration. 

Also remember that the water you drank a few days ago is helping your voice now - not the water you drank an hour ago.  

2. STEAM

Steam goes directly to the vocal folds.

Look in your local drug store for a steam inhaler. The one I like is made by Vicks. Use distilled water. Do not add menthol. Inhale through the nose and out through the mouth. The ideal frequency is 2x/day for 5 minutes. 

Inhaling in the shower also counts. If you travel, turn on the shower when you get to your hotel room to humidify the room.  

3. DONíT DRY OUT THE VOICE

Drying to the voice is air conditioning, flying on planes, drinking alcohol, carbonated drinks, caffeine, and medications such as antihistamines, decongestants, and cough drops with menthol. 

Never use anything that numbs the throat, such as chloraseptic. It can give a false sense of what youíre doing vocally, causing you to compensate with undesirable vocal actions.  

4. SALINE/SINUS RINSE OR NETI POT

This is useful for dryness, sinus pressure/congestion, headaches, coughs or nasal drainage.  

5. DRINKING LIQUIDS

Liquids should be at room temperature or warm. Avoid hot or cold.  

6. CONSERVE VOICE USE


Be careful in social events while talking above background noise, the amount of time on your cell phone, and shouting at an event,

Also, keep your neck warm if out in cold weather.

Think of having a Ďvoice bank.'  You only have so much $ (voice) in your bank. How much voice use are you using up throughout the day? 

Assign a money amount for the demand on your voice. For example, shouting, using your voice loudly or coaching your childís game uses up a great amount in your bank. How much do you have left in your vocal bank for today or tomorrow?

Donít overbook yourself. Give your voice time to rest.  

7 DIET, SLEEP and EXERCISE


Yes, they all affect the voice. Avoid foods containing milk products, as they increase mucous. 

Also refrain from eating late at night. And stay away from foods that are fatty or spicy close to voice use.      

8. WHEN TO SEE THE DOCTOR 

Two weeks is usually the guide for seeing your doctor after a cold or laryngitis if your voice is still hoarse or has not returned. 

If youíre a singer and you notice a loss of high/low notes, difficulty singing staccato notes, significant delays with the onset of phonation, or stopping during phonation, see your ENT (Otolaryngologist, also known as Ear, Nose and Throat). 

Know your own voice and follow your gut. There are many ENTís that are reputable.

A Laryngologist is an Otolaryngologist who specializes in the voice, so if you can see one thatís great. Keep your ears open. Ask your friends or doctors for recommendations.  

9. COUGHING

When you cough, the vocal folds come together abruptly. If you have a chronic cough or a hard cough for a period of time you may injure your vocal cords. 

To avoid the cough you can take a sip of water, say an Ďhí sound or hum to see if you can get rid of a tickle or move phlegm off the vocal cords.  

10. REFLUX

Symptoms include feeling as if thereís a lump or pain in your throat when swallowing, laryngitis, hoarseness, heartburn, or a sour taste in your mouth. Consult your doctor when this occurs.  
----------------------
ABOUT DORY 
Dory Rigopoulos Kafoure is a speech pathologist, voice coach and singing rehab specialist who helps actors and voice actors with articulation (diction), breathing techniques, accent reduction and voice improvement. Working in this field for 34 years, she is licensed and has a Certificate of Clinical Competence (CCC), and has done extra study and certification in the areas of voice "which is my passion and specialty." With basic training in articulation, language, voice and stuttering, she is a Lessac Voice and Body Kinisensics Practitioner, clinically trained in LMRVT (for resonant voice) and LSVT (for Parkinson's voice), trained in Estill Voice Treatment, and is currently learning Vibrant Voice Technique.


Email: vocalbest@aol.com
Web:
www.DoryTheVoiceCoach.com

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Comments (4)
Dory Rigopoulos Kafoure
1/30/2015 at 2:17 PM
Scott, I see the controversy about milk products and mucus online. Not being a doctor, I did find it interesting that an M.D. online reported that it's the saliva mixed with the high fat content of the dairy that may mimic mucus.

So what about less fat content? Honestly, I don't know. I think the bottom line is that each of our bodies are different and how we process food. You may have to experiment with yourself to really know.

I think, bottom line, it just wouldn't make sense to have yogurt an hour before recording yourself. It's sometimes a fine line between what works for you (i.e. caffeine in your cappuccino for energy) and what works against you. Dairy includes milk, cheese, cottage cheese and yogurt.
Kurt Feldner
1/29/2015 at 5:12 PM
Thanks for these great tips! Number 9 (coughing) was especially helpful, as I'd not previously heard of those techniques to try avoiding coughing.
Jim Conlan
1/29/2015 at 9:45 AM
Very much appreciated, Dory. I will pass this along to my students.
Scott Medvetz
1/29/2015 at 9:29 AM
Totally agree with the sinus rinse. It keeps things flowing and definitely helps prevents colds. I also add 25% Alkolol at the (Amazon link http://goo.gl/CTnCcj) at the first sign of sinus issues.

I am curious about the dairy issue and have never found an article that addresses it to my satisfaction. Specifically, how long does dairy affect the mucous? If I have a cappuccino this morning, will it still be affecting things tomorrow? Also, what type of dairy products affect the voice? Cheese?

Thanks for a great article.
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