Our vocal cords (also know as vocal folds) are amazing. Approximately 12.5 mm to 17.5 mm (0.5″ to 0.75″) in women and 17.5 mm to 25 mm (0.75″ to 1.0″) in length in men, they are the second second fastest set of muscles to the eyelids. Pretty impressive right? They can do so much for us from protecting the airway so we don’t choke to death, helping us communicate with others through speech, eliminating foreign bodies through coughing. helping us to lift heavy objects when they close and of course, for some of us they are a way of expressing ourselves creatively through singing.
As with anything there are dangers lurking about that will interfere with their health and function. Many of these influences are within your control, but some may require medical intervention to treat.Many things can impact on the efficiency and function of your vocal cords. Some interferences come from within and some from without.
Here is a list a a few common negative influences that may cause problems for the vocal cords and their function.
General health of singer. Cold/flu, other infections such as in the sinuses, throat or ears.
Medical conditions. Such as thyroid problems, chronic fatigue/ME, respiratory conditions e.g. Reflux, asthma, vocal issues e.g. polyps, nodules, Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Dysfunction
Hydration. If you feel thirsty it’s already too late. It takes 2 hours for anything you drink to have an effect on your hydration level. Drink enough to make the colour of your urine clear (1.5-2L/d). More if you are exercising. Alcohol and caffeine dehydrate the cells. Fruit contains H2O. Avoid eucalyptus and menthol too as they have a drying effect on the vocal cords.
Drugs. Illicit or prescribed. Hormonal pill may affect vocal cord thickness, asthma puffers, antihistamines, antiseptics may dry the vocal cords, some antidepressants and acne medications will affect surface of vocal cord. Medications that numb the throat and thin the blood e.g. aspirin should also be avoided. Smoking pot is 20 times worse than cigarettes on the vocal cords. Cocaine…think Whitney (RIP), Daniella Westbrook –need I say more?Alcohol. Very drying and makes you ‘think’ you can sing better than you really can! You may actually just be yelling!
Environment. Air-con, extreme cold, extreme heat, dryness, dusty, chemicals etc. All dry the vocal cords
Smoke. From a primary or secondary source. Dries vocal cords…not to mention other much nastier diseases!
Talking over loud noises. Gigs, parties, working around loud machinery or in loud environments.
Excessive talking. This includes jobs that require a lot of talking e.g. teaching, call centre work.
Maybe you have a few other suggesting for negative influences on the voice? Why not share your experience or tips in the comments below.
In the meantime happy singing
If you are interested in the anatomy of the voice here is a video of a stroboscope on a live person showing the different structures of the larynx (not for the squeamish)