Good voice care is the key to singing longevity. Most vocal threats are within our control, but some may require medical intervention. This article will look at voice care factors within our control.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This includes thyroid problems, PMS (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.
You know the saying “All choked up”…need I say more?
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)
Poor vocal technique
You may have been born with talent but poor vocal technique will destroy it. Make sure you know how to use your instrument safely and efficiently. Find a reputable singing teacher/vocal coach. Remember if you are a singer then you are a vocal athlete.
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.
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.
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.
Wishing you good vocal health always.