Good voice care is key to keeping you singing. As with anything, there are dangers lurking about that will interfere with your vocal health and function. Many of these influences are within your control, but some may require medical intervention to treat. There are numerous things that can interfere with the efficiency and function of your vocal folds. Some interferences come from within, and some from without.

Here are some common influences that may cause problems for the voice and its function.

The general health of the singer

The common cold, a cough, flu and other infections such as in the sinuses, throat or ears.

Medical conditions

Such as allergies, thyroid problems, gastric reflux, chronic fatigue, ME, neurological conditions e.g. Parkinson’s,  respiratory conditions e.g. asthma or COPD, vocal pathology e.g. swollen vocal folds, polyps, nodules, Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Dysfunction.

Hydration

Your vocal folds need to be moist to do their job well. It takes several hours for anything you drink to reach a cellular level. Drink regularly throughout the day, enough to make your urine a pale straw colour. (Here’s a BBC documentary that covers hydration – how much and what, skip to 42:00). Drink more if you are exercising or in a very hot environment. Too much alcohol or caffeine and certain medications will contribute towards dehydration. Remember fruit and veggies contain water.

Your vocal fold need to be well hydrated to function well

Throat clearing/coughing

Very abusive to vocal folds. Steam, sip water when possible limit throat clearing. If coughing is excessive consider cough medicine or see your doctor. Try to cough with your vocal folds in the open position – weird but effective. I’m a big fan of Vocalzone pastilles to ease throat irritation and dry coughs. Avoid losengers and medications that have local anesthetic or drying agents particularly when you’re singing.

Hormonal changes

This includes thyroid problemsPMS (PMT), menopause and male puberty. An increase or decrease in certain hormones will cause changes to the size and thickness of the vocal folds. The first 3 situations are easier to manage than the last one, that’s a time thing but with a good vocal coach guys can manage the changes better.  See your doctor for further advice on managing the other conditions.

Physical tiredness

Sleep repairs and rejuvenates our brain, muscles, organs, and cells. And apparently, good sleeping habits will increase longevity. Nice!

Emotional issues

You know the saying “All choked up”…need I say more?

Diet

Food is medicine, but it can also be an enemy to the voice. Certain foods may exacerbate gastric reflux, cause an allergic reaction or impact our energy levels. You know your body best. Make sure what you’re eating supports your health and wellbeing and ultimately your voice. Some studies have shown there is no correlation between milk consumption and mucus production unless you have an intolerance to lactose. In fact, studies have shown that milk is better for hydration than water!  If you suffer reflux avoid acidic foods e.g. citrus, tomatoes, spices, caffeine and eating late at night. Avoid any foods you have an allergy towards. (See my top tips for managing Gastric Reflux)
Gastric reflux will erode your vocal folds!

Poor vocal technique

You may have been born with talent but poor technique will destroy it. Make sure you know how to use your instrument safely and efficiently. You are a vocal athlete.

Drugs

Over the counter, prescribed or illicit. A hormonal pill e.g. the contraceptive may affect vocal fold thickness, asthma puffers, antihistamines, antiseptics may dry the vocal folds, some antidepressants and acne medications will affect the surface of the vocal fold. 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 fold. Cocaine…think Whitney (RIP), Daniella Westbrook –need I say more? For prescribed medications discuss with your doctor before making any changes.

Environment

Air-con, extreme cold, extreme heat, dryness, dust, chemicals etc. All dry the vocal folds. High altitudes can swell the vocal folds, this includes when flying.

Smoke

From a primary or secondary source. Dries vocal folds…not to mention other much nastier diseases such as cancer and emphysema!

Excessive talking and talking over loud noises

Gigs, parties, shouting at your favourite football team, working around loud machinery or in loud environments. This includes jobs that require a lot of talking e.g. teaching, call centre work.