Have you ever experienced what it's like to lose your voice? If so, you know that it makes simple things, such as chatting to your best mate, a bit more challenging. Let alone if you rely on your voice for work!
So...what can we do to always make sure that our voice is in tip-top condition?
1. DRINK LOTS OF...WATER
There is an important thin layer of lubricating mucus around our vocal folds (aka: vocal cords) that helps keep our voice functioning properly. When you don't drink enough water, this layer becomes thick and sticky and the vocal folds may become dryer and stiffer which can make them more vulnerable to damage if misused. Sticky mucus can also lead to irritation making you cough or clear your throat often...which may cause further damage! TOP TIP: Try to drink at least 8 cups of water a day! I'm afraid tea and coffee have a diuretic effect which means that valuable water content ends up being flushed away!
2. STAY CLEAR OF ALCOHOL
Ever fancy a wee shot of whisky or brandy in the evening? If so...BEWARE. Some spirits have strong fumes which can make already irritated vocal folds worse. Ever experienced acid indigestion (aka: acid reflux/heartburn)? This can be caused by alcohol (as it is very indigestible), as well as food with a high fat content, hot spices and onions. Acid indigestion is a problem because the stomach acid can spill back up your oesophagus (gullet) and may irritate the vocal folds...your throat then produces more mucus to guard the voice producing muscles, making your voice tighter. TOP TIP: As well as alcohol, try to avoid spicy, hot foods...such as your favourite vindaloo.
3. AVOID PROLONGED SHOUTING
I understand...trying not to shout, scream or use your voice for long periods of time when in noisy environments can be a real challenge...particularly if you're a school teacher! However, we all know that this is probably not good for our voices and should be avoided or minimised whenever possible. Coughing and throat clearing also irritate the vocal folds and may be symptoms of other medical problems - so pleased see your doctor if these become prolonged. TOP TIPs: Try to reduce background noise wherever possible to avoid putting any additional strain on your voice, e.g. turning the car music down when chatting. Use amplification if it is necessary for your job. Sipping water or sucking hard-boiled sweets can sometimes help to reduce the need to cough or clear your throat. More reasons to sip that water throughout the day!
4. AVOID BEING AROUND SMOKE
Try to avoid exposure to cigarette smoke and other atmospheric irritants that will irritate the mucous membranes of your throat, chest and vocal folds, causing them to stiffen and swell. Cigarette smoke, vehicle fumes, dust, dry air from the central heating blasting....they are all culprits! TOP TIPs: Inhaling steam reduces swelling and helps sooth irritated vocal folds. Resting your voice is also beneficial if you have a throat infection or laryngitis. Your emotional states, such as bottled-up anger or anxiety, can also build up tension causing vocal discomfort. So...time for a relaxing day at the spa!
5. EXERCISE, BREATHE...AND RELAX!
Regular exercise is good for the body, the mind...and your voice! Your voice relies on good breath control, posture and relaxed, supple muscles. Nobody benefits from a stressed, tense neck, jaw and shoulders, and little muscles used for voice will suffer too. The voice is like the rest of the body...it likes to be warmed up before exercise to prevent injury. Singers, performers and speakers will know all about warming their voices up before being on stage. It is also important to warm-down too so that you don't continue speaking with your vocal folds stretched and thinned from singing high pitched notes all evening. You can gently glide your voice down in pitch by using sounds with a stronger airflow, e.g. rolled "r", "z" or "v". This will help to relax your vocal folds, returning your voice to it's normal, lower pitch. TOP TIP: Try not to speak while out of breath or speak too long on one breath as too little air can strain your voice. Try a class in Yoga, Tai Chi or Pilates to improve general fitness, relaxation, breathing and posture.
So...there you have it. What to do and what not to do to help maintain a healthy, vibrant voice. Remember...this information contains useful guidelines to maintain optimum vocal hygiene. Please seek medical advice from your doctor if you are concerned about your voice or throat.
It really is amazing what the voice can do...considering what it goes through in a lifetime! We must do our best to take care of it...each and everyday. Remember...take nothing for granted.
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