How would we feel if we didn’t take a shower? Maybe we spent the day running errands, or commuting to and from work, or attending a yoga or spin class. If we didn’t take time to get clean—even if it’s just after a normal day—we would feel pretty disgusting. On many different levels, hygiene is a good thing!
Just as important as day-to-day hygiene is vocal hygiene. Vocal hygiene is something that we don't normally think about, and our voice can suffer because of it. The goal of a vocal hygiene program is to protect our voice so it can complete all of the tasks we want it to do throughout the day.
Vocal hygiene can be broken down into three areas:
You’ve all heard the saying: our bodies are 70% water. Water helps our bodies, including the muscles and tissue in our voice box, work properly. So why don’t we make hydration a priority? If you’re thirsty, your body is already dehydrated, and you need to drink a lot of water to get your body back to where it needs to be. An easy rule of thumb: drink 8 glasses filled with 8 ounces of water each, and increase from there if you are active. In addition, make sure you drink extra water when you drink coffee or alcohol (two major dehydrators), as well as if you are taking any cold and allergy medications, like Sudafed, Benadryl, and Zyrtec.
Tip for people that absolutely hate water: try adding some flavoring with powder packets (found in the juice aisle of the grocery store) or add different fruit directly to your water (lemon, cucumber, and mint is my personal favorite).
Gastroesophageal reflux—also known as acid reflux or heartburn—and laryngopharyngeal reflux are common issues for many people, and can affect your voice if not managed. In fact, I’ve seen many people who were complaining about voice problems, only to find out that the root cause of the issue was reflux. Thankfully, GERD and LPR can be managed by medication prescribed for your doctor. If your voice becomes hoarse after eating, you cough often, have a sore throat and swallowing issues, you may have LPR.
There are many ways in which we can protect our voice from overuse. Think of the last time you went to a concert or sports game, yelled and cheered with everyone else, and then couldn’t talk for the rest of the night. Your vocal folds, which are small and sensitive to damage, became so stressed and strained that they were unable to work correctly. Another way that we overuse our voice is by talking for too long or talking too loudly without the appropriate breath support. In all of these instances, taking a few minutes to allow your voice to rest is key—if over-strained or traumatized too many times, your voice could develop vocal nodules or polyps, two disorders, among others, which are preventable for the normal person. Moderation is good in all areas of our lives, especially for our voice.
Throat clearing and coughing are two important protective mechanisms we have for the airway, but clearing and coughing too much and too hard may damage our vocal folds. In addition, frequent coughing may increase your saliva production, leading to more coughing because of the excess saliva. If you find yourself having the urge to cough, try swallowing hard in your throat or with a sip of water, or try a “silent” or soft throat clear.
Your vocal folds will thank you.
Disclaimer: The above information is not meant to replace the advice of a medical physician or to diagnose specific disorders. If you have questions, please consult your doctor for an informed opinion of your individual health and wellness.