The New Year is a time many people resolve to be healthier. Charlotte Eye Ear Nose & Throat Associates, P.A. Voice & Swallowing Specialist Lori Ellen Sutton, MA, CCC-SLP, discusses healthy vocal resolutions.
The New Year is upon us. As such, our thoughts turn to what we want to do differently this year. Resolutions to get in shape, pay off debts, or spend more time with our families are common. While those are all worthy endeavors, this year the CEENTA Voice and Swallowing Center encourages you to resolve to commit to better voice care. Here are some practical ways to put that goal into action:
Being well hydrated keeps mucus thin and keeps the vocal folds well lubricated so that they vibrate efficiently. The better hydrated you are, the less likely you are to clear your throat unnecessarily. You’ll also put less wear and tear on your vocal folds simply through your daily voice use.
Caffeine is a diuretic, meaning it has a drying effect and depletes the vocal fold tissue of much needed water. Drink no more than two servings of caffeine per day. Remember that decaf coffee and tea still have caffeine in them…just not as much as the “fully loaded” versions.
Your breath is the power source behind your voice. Singers attend well to their breathing patterns while singing, but our vocal folds are responsible for our sound, both while speaking AND singing. Even singers speak more than they sing on a daily basis. Resolve to implement good diaphragmatic breathing patterns with all voice use, not just singing. In addition, stopping periodically throughout your day to take a few good belly breaths and quiet your mind can help reduce stress.
Your vocal mechanism is essentially a muscular system and it responds to principles of exercise physiology the same way other muscles do. Physical athletes always warm up before activity to avoid injury and stretch/cool down afterwards to give the body time to readjust to the change in requirements following intense physical activity. Singers, a.k.a. vocal athletes, need to do the same thing. Warm up to stretch your vocal muscles, get your breath going, and prepare your mind for the act of singing. Use gentle hums on simple downward scales and glides to cool down, to help calm your vocal muscles, return your voice to the less intense demands of normal speaking, and prepare muscles to rest.
Vocal overuse is a contributor to many voice problems. Practice good vocal pacing, schedule periodic “voice naps” throughout the day, or implement a 60/10 rule (10 min of silence for every 60 min of voice use) to shave some minutes off your voice demand each day.
Even for seasoned singers, having another set of eyes and ears listening to and watching your voice production can be invaluable for making sure you are using healthy voice-production technique that is specific to the genre of music you primarily sing.
There are many chronic medical issues (or medications used to treat them) that can have an impact on your voice. Among the most common are reflux, allergies, and asthma. Commit to dietary and behavioral reflux precautions. Work with your physician to ensure these conditions are optimally managed. Inquire about the potential drying impact of medications and request to take the lowest dosage that will treat your symptoms. Remember to add extra water to your daily intake or use steam treatments to counteract the drying effects of any medications you may be taking.
Caring for your voice starts with caring for your whole body. General body fatigue can be reflected in your voice, making voice production efficiency more difficult to achieve. Aim for 8 hours of sleep per night. Strive to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day so that you get consistent rest.
Coughing/throat clearing, talking loudly or over background noise, calling from room to room in the house, singing outside of your range or while you are sick, or yelling/screaming to express emotion can all be very traumatic to the vocal folds and are often the source of vocal injury. Opt to use gentler alternatives to these behaviors such as using a silent cough, speaking only to those within arm’s reach, and cultivating the power of soft articulated speech to express intense emotion.
Because of the neurological connections between our emotional systems and our vocal mechanism, stress can negatively impact voice function. It can also exacerbate reflux, which can harm the voice. Make activities that relax and ground you (sleep, reading, exercise, prayer, etc.) a part of your routine. Practicing good self-care can help keep stress to a minimum.
Here’s to good vocal health in 2017!
This blog is for informational purposes only. For specific medical questions, please consult your physician. Lori Ellen Sutton is a Voice & Swallowing specialist who works in CEENTA’s SouthPark office. She received her bachelor’s degree in music from the University of Mississippi and her master’s degree in audiology and speech pathology from the University of Memphis. Her fellowship was at the Scripps Center for Voice and Swallowing in La Jolla, CA.
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