How to look after your voice
The summer has turned to autumn and with the beautiful colour of the trees turning to shades of copper, gold and red, but this time of year can bring issues that affect our voice.
The voice box, or the Adam’s Apple, is situated in the larynx, at the top of the wind pipe. The sound of our voice is created as the delicate vocal cords are brought together and blown apart in a process known as phonation. This is the sound of the human voice. A free sounding, healthy voice can be likened to a clear water fountain.
When you have a cold, you are likely to cough as well, which can give the vocal cords a bit of a battering and if you cough a lot, then the vocal cords can become swollen and inflamed.
If you feel that it is becoming difficult to speak, then it is likely that the vocal cords are unable to vibrate freely as they do in normal speech. The vocal cords become stiff and less flexible, so the sound of your voice changes, often becoming rougher and deeper-pitched. If your vocal cords are very inflamed through coughing, then it can feel very uncomfortable and hard work to speak.
Here are some top tips from the British Voice Association to help protect your vocal chords and help them to heal, particularly if you have suffered from Covid 19:
- Keep well hydrated. Drink 1½ – 2 litres (4 – 5 pints) of fluid that doesn’t contain caffeine or alcohol per day (unless advised otherwise by a doctor).
- Try gentle steaming with hot water (nothing added to the water). Breathe in and out gently through your nose or mouth. The steam should not be so hot that it brings on coughing.
- When the virus is at its peak, coughing is likely to be intense and unavoidable. However, once this stage of the illness passes, try to avoid persistent, deliberate throat clearing and, if you can’t prevent it, make it as gentle as possible. Taking small sips of cold water can help to supress the urge to cough.
- Chewing gum or sucking sweets can help promote saliva flow, which lubricates the throat and can help to reduce throat clearing. Avoid medicated lozenges and gargles, as these can contain ingredients that irritate the mucosal lining of the throat.
- You do not need to be on total voice rest, i.e. silent. Even in the early stages of the virus, when the voice is at its worst, using the vocal cords for a few short utterances every so often during the day keeps them mobilised, and this is a good thing.
- Always aim to use your normal voice. Don’t worry if all that comes out is a whisper or a croak; just avoid straining to force the voice to sound louder.
- Don’t deliberately choose to whisper; this does not “save” the voice; it puts the voice box under strain.
- Avoid smoking or vaping.
- Avoid attempting to talk over background noise such as music, television or car engine noise, as this causes you to try to raise the volume, which can be damaging.
- If your voice is no more than a whisper do not attempt telephone, online chat, or video conversations. Once the voice starts to improve, avoid prolonged (more than 5 minutes) conversations by telephone, online chat, or video. Try to use text-based options instead.
- You may notice that your voice fatigues more rapidly than normal. This is to be expected. Take a break from talking when you experience vocal fatigue; this gives the vocal cords time to recover.
- In addition to irritation from COVID-19, reflux can also irritate the throat. To minimise any possible reflux, avoid greasy foods and highly acidic foods and drinks such as; citrus fruits and juices, vinegar and pickles, tomatoes and tomato sauces, fizzy, caffeinated and alcoholic drinks etc. It can also be beneficial to take a liquid alginate (e.g. Gaviscon Advance) following meals and before bed.
- Until the voice has returned to normal it is best to avoid “athletic” vocal activities such as shouting and singing.
If you have concerns about your voice you should contact your GP surgery as you may require a referral to an ENT specialist Voice Clinic.
In normal circumstances (when you are not suffering or getting over an illness) gentle exercise of your voice, such as breathing in, then gently humming out on one note repeated about 5-10 times can help with warming up your voice. It is also really important to build a habit of drinking drink plenty of fresh water, at room temperature and have it to hand when you are in a video conference, for example.
Keep your voice healthy during the golden days of autumn and through the winter months by looking after it well.
For full information and advice about voice problems, particularly after suffering Covid-19, go to British Voice Association.
For information about how to develop a clear and well-articulated voice, please get in touch.