12 tips to maintain a healthy voice
Have you ever lost your voice after cheering at a football game? Or discovered yourself sounding hoarse or raspy? The American Speech Language and Hearing Association estimates that 1 out of every 13 adults has voice problems, with only 10% seeking treatment. Finding useful tips to maintain a healthy voice can be tricky, too, since some things work well for some people but not for others.
Speech-language pathologist Jocelyn Odlum at Prisma Health Ear, Nose and Throat offered advice on when to get voice problems checked out and how to prevent the problem in the first place.
Who is at risk for voice problems and when should they seek care?
Voice problems can happen to anyone, but they tend to be more common in heavy voice users, such as teachers, lawyers, parents, pastors, coaches, and singers or in those who smoke tobacco and/or drink alcohol.
Signs that you may not have a healthy voice can include:
- Husky, rough, raspy or hoarse quality
- Tightness or even muscle aches in the throat
- Loss of vocal range when singing
- Sudden changes in pitch, voice cutting out or fading away
- Throat often feeling raw, itchy, achy or strained
- Vocal fatigue
- Feeling the need to clear your throat often, lump in your throat
Sometimes, voice problems resolve without the need for intervention within a short amount of time. If problems persist for more than two weeks, it is important to seek medical attention from your otolaryngologist (ENT).
“Treatment of voice disorders varies depending on the cause and most can be treated successfully if diagnosed early,” Odlum said.
How can you keep your voice healthy?
Odlum offered these 12 tips to maintain a healthy voice:
- Do not smoke.
- Drink plenty of water – at least half your body weight in ounces daily. Vocal cords need lubrication to function well.
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine, which dehydrate and irritate the vocal cords.
- Avoid yelling, screaming and loud talking.
- Avoid whispering. It is worse to try and whisper. If you must talk, just use your normal speaking voice, and do not overdo it.
- Avoid excessive talking. If you do not need to talk, complete voice rest is helpful. You can even take “voice naps” throughout the day.
- Minimize throat clearing and avoid coughing as this is very traumatic to injured vocal cords.
- Rest your voice when you are sick.
- Use amplification when speaking to large groups or singing.
- Humidify your work and home environments.
- Use vocal cord exercises. One example is “straw phonation” which involves humming/voicing into a coffee or drinking straw. It’s like a “low impact” workout/stretching exercise for the vocal cords and can help stretch out/rehabilitate damaged vocal cords.
- Control any conditions such as reflux or allergies.
Silent reflux, which is also known as laryngeal pharyngeal reflux, can have a significant effect on your voice.
Some signs of silent reflux include:
- Hoarse voice
- Sore throat
- Lump in throat
- Postnasal drip
- Excessive belching/hiccups
- Excessive mucus in your airway
- Ear pressure
“If you suffer from reflux or silent reflux, simple changes can have a positive impact,” Odlum said. Stay hydrated (half your body weight in ounces), follow a reflux diet, know your “triggers” (such as certain foods/drinks), and raise the head of your bed.
If you suffer from allergies, daily nasal saline irrigations can be a great way to clean out your sinuses and keep post-nasal drip under control. If you take antihistamines, be sure to drink extra water to stay hydrated as these medicines can dry out your throat and contribute to hoarseness.
If you need more help managing reflux or allergy symptoms, contact your physician.
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