It’s a singer’s worst nightmare: losing the use of his or her voice. Fortunately, there are ways to prevent vocal damage actively. When you sing a lot and want to keep it up, you should definitely learn how to treat your voice properly!
Before I start I want to mention that I am not a professional physician or voice doctor. I am a singing student, teacher, and performing artist, which means that I sing a lot and every day. In this article, I want to share the vocal health tips given to me and the experiences with my own voice that I´ve collected throughout my singing practice.
How do you know when your voice is not healthy?
If you answer “yes” to any of the following questions, you may have a voice problem and should consider seeing a professional:
- Has your voice become hoarse or raspy?
- Have you lost your ability to hit some high notes when singing?
- Does your voice suddenly sound deeper?
- Does your throat often feel raw, achy, or strained?
- Has it become an effort to talk?
- Do you find yourself repeatedly clearing your throat?
If you think you have a voice problem, consult a doctor to determine the underlying cause. Keep in mind that some people naturally have a raspy or hoarse voice! The hoarseness can also come from talking loudly, singing along in a club, or sleeping in a dry space, so isn’t necessarily a health issue! Nevertheless, if one of the above-mentioned things applies to your voice continue reading to find out what causes vocal problems, and what you can do to prevent them.
What causes voice problems?
Voice problems can arise for a variety of reasons. While illnesses can be the cause, it is also possible that the voice technique is faulty or that the general health and diet leave something to be desired.
Illness or diseases can be the root of vocal problems. Some are curable, others aren’t! Misuse and bad habits are often the origins, but there are also diseases that are passed on genetically. Physicians and doctors are the ones that can help you here. Both therapies and surgery can cure or at least improve.
- Psychological trauma
- Cancer of the larynx
- Neurological diseases (such as spasmodic dysphonia or vocal fold paralysis)
- Upper respiratory infections
Vocal technique is very important in singing, but not necessary. There are many singers that have no idea about vocal technique and sing beautifully! The problem is that if you don’t treat your delicate voice the way it should be treated, it won’t be beautiful forever! If you want to be able to keep your voice up for the long run, consider taking singing lessons! If lessons aren’t an option for you there are many vocal technique blogs, like this one, and youtube videos, that can help you!
- Vocal overuse
- Vocal strain
- Vocal nodules as a result of vocal overuse and misuse
- Not enough rest
- No proper warm-up
- Singing with too much air
- Incorrect breathing
Diet is more important than you think! An unbalanced diet can lead to GERD, which can be the reason for inflammation and thereby a vocal cord injury.
📚Term. GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux)
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) occurs when stomach acid frequently flows back into the tube connecting your mouth and stomach (esophagus). This backwash (acid reflux) can irritate the lining of your esophagus.
Next to the diet, hydration is a topic that shouldn’t be underestimated. Both for your voice and your general health, regular water intake is important. Even though it feels like your vocal cords are hydrated right after you drank something, that isn’t true. It takes up to 4 hours to actually hydrate the vocal cords, so when you have a performance, start drinking the day before, if you can’t keep it up as a general habit!
And last but not least, your body fitness influences pretty much everything you do. Your body is irreplaceable and if you want to avoid major health issues in later periods of your life, prevent it now and start working out a bit!
- Gerd can come from eating Spicy, acidic, and dairy foods if you are sensitive to them.
- Not enough water/hydration is bad for the voice and your general health.
- Drinking alcohol or caffeine dry out the vocal cords so keep in mind to always rehydrate when you drink these beverages.
- Not doing any sports isn’t helpful! Vitality is important.
Everyone has bad habits, and everyone has difficulties getting rid of them. But you can do the first step now! Get aware of what kind of habits you have and which ones are bad. Now you can slowly start to avoid them and step by step you´ll manage! Give yourself enough time and believe in it. Your Body is your temple!
- Drug use: Don´t smoke, and avoid second-hand smoke. Smoke irritates the vocal folds. Also, cancer of the vocal folds is seen most often in individuals who smoke.
- Sleeping in dry air-conditioned spaces.
- Singing along loudly in clubs, when partying.
- Not enough sleep – Physical fatigue has a negative effect on voice.
Healthy habits to take care of your voice
- Drink plenty of water and tea, especially when exercising
📌Fact. Warm beverages
By drinking warm or room temperature water you are hydrating your vocal cords. When you hydrate your vocal cords it allows you to hit higher notes without strain.
- In case liquid intake is difficult, use non-menthol or non-eucalyptus lozenges
- Limit alcohol intake
- Turn off your air conditioning or use a humidifier in your home. This is especially important in winter or in dry climates. Thirty percent humidity is recommended
- Avoid or limit the use of medications that may dry out the vocal folds, including some common cold and allergy medications. If you have voice problems, ask your doctor which medications would be safest for you to use
Keep an eye on your Diet
- Include plenty of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables in your diet. These foods contain vitamins A, E, and C. They also help keep the mucus membranes that line the throat healthy
- Avoid mouthwash or gargles that contain alcohol or irritating chemicals
Use your voice wisely
- Exercise regularly. Exercise increases stamina and muscle tone. This helps provide good posture and breathing, which are necessary for proper speaking. Take vocal naps.
- Rest your voice when you are sick. Illness puts extra stress on your voice.
- Use the easy onset of voicing.
- Do not talk or sing above high ambient noise levels for extended periods of time.
- Use amplification where and when necessary.
- Avoid excessive coughing or throat clearing.
- Try not to overuse your voice. Avoid speaking or singing when your voice is hoarse or tired.
- Avoid using the extremes of your vocal range, such as screaming or whispering. Talking too loudly and too softly can both stress your voice. Practice good breathing techniques when singing or talking.
- Avoid cradling the phone when talking. Cradling the phone between the head and shoulder for extended periods of time can cause muscle tension in the neck.
Taking Care of your voice – NIDCD
Maintaining Vocal health – uofm health
10 Habits for a healthy voice – Freya Casey