Bad influences on the voice

Location of the vocal cords

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.


Contained within the larynx (voice box) the vocal cords lie in a ‘V’ shape, horizontally across the top of the windpipe. They open when we take in air and shut completely when we swallow or hold our breath and are partially closed when we create sound as for speech. Sound production starts when air flowing through the closing cords causing them to vibrate. If we are singing then the high the pitch the faster the vibration. For instance at a middle A (A4) they vibrate 440 times/sec.The process of sound production and pitch creation are more complex than I want to go into in this blog, what is important is you recognise you should not take your voice for granted, especially if you are a professional voice user (e.g. teacher, speaker, singer etc). The voice needs looking after.


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.




Water is like nectar to your vocal cords

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.

Throat clearing/coughing. Very abusive to vocal cords. Steam, sip water when possible limit throat clearing. If coughing is excessive consider cough medicine or see your GP.


Hormonal changes. PMS and menopause, puberty.


Physical tiredness. SLEEEEEEP ZZZZZ.


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



Gastic reflux will burn your vocal cords!

Diet. Some studies have shown there is no correlation between milk consumption and mucous production unless you have intolerance to lactose. 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 blog on Gastric Reflux)Poor vocal technique. You may have been born with a 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. 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)