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How to Keep Your Voice Healthy - Avoid Vocal Damage

Audrey Hunt, a renowned vocal coach, shares why singing is good for everyone.

how-to-sing-the-five-basic-singing-vowels

How Throat Clearing Damages Your Voice

Once you get used to the throat clearing, it becomes behavioral. The more you clear your throat, the more you'll feel like you need to clear it. "It's hard to know when it crosses that line," Dr. Phillip Song, a Laryngologist at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in Boston, told NBC News:

"Your throat and vocal cords take repeated abuse with constant clearing," said Rotskoff, "The resulting inflammation only reinforces the urge to clear and the cycle continues. Even if you don't feel discomfort there can be lasting damage to your throat and voice."

Allergy expert Dr. Brian Rotskoff of the Clarity Allergy Center in Chicago believes that too much habitual throat clearing harms the throat and vocal cords if left untreated.

10 Major Causes Of Vocal Damage And Abuse

You may be surprised to learn how everyday habits may end up damaging your voice. For the singer and speaker it pays to know what these habits are. Prevention is the best way to go. Take a look at the following list of causes for most vocal damage:

  • Yelling/screaming
  • Clearing the throat
  • Singing too high (or too low) - vocal strain
  • Extreme tension
  • Vocal Fry (When the vocal cartilages squeeze together very tightly)
  • Overuse of the voice (speaking/singing)
  • Smoking (primary and secondary)
  • Coughing
  • Medications that dry the voice (antihistamines, pain medications.)
  • Consuming caffein which drys out the vocal folds.


Drink Plenty of Water to Protect Your Voice

Your throat needs constant moisture when singing or speaking for long periods of time. Bathe your throat with plenty of room temperature water.  Avoid cold temperatures as cold restricts the vocal folds.

Your throat needs constant moisture when singing or speaking for long periods of time. Bathe your throat with plenty of room temperature water. Avoid cold temperatures as cold restricts the vocal folds.

Tips For A Healthy Singing And Speaking Voice

  • Drink plenty of water. Avoid ice or cold water prior to singing as this restricts the vocal cords. Stick with room temperature water. The vocal cords must be kept lubricated.
  • Avoid dairy products. All dairy causes phlegm (mucous.)
  • Cut back or avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks. These are drying to the vocal bands. It's important to keep the vocal cords lubricated.
  • Rest the voice after long sessions of speaking or singing.
  • Do not try to sing when you are ill or suffer from a sore throat.
  • Inhale steam to lubricate a dry, irritated throat.
  • Avoid whispering to prevent and eliminate vocal fatigue.
  • Use a vaporizer if you live in a dry climate or the air in your bedroom is very dry. Place the vaporizer about two feet away from your nose when sleeping.
  • For a dry throat ue glycerin based lozenges.
  • Going in and out of changing climates is irritating to the vocal cords. Wear a scarf around the neck in colder weather.

What To Do If You Suspect Vocal Damage

If you suspect vocal damage:

  • Stop using your voice period. Take a day off from speaking. Rest the voice.
  • Avoid whispering.
  • Increase your intake of water to keep the vocal folds hydrated.
  • Steam inhalation also hydrates the the vocal folds.
  • See your doctor as soon as possible.

The Role of a Laryngologist

A laryngologist is a medical doctor specializing in voice disorders (ENT.) After a physical examination which includes a scope exam, further tests may be needed including xrays, a biopsy or an endoscopic examination.

An additional test known as an LEMG (laryngeal electromyography) may be in order for determining vocal fold function.

More information...

Photo Of A Vocal Polyp

This is a photo of a vocal polyp which can be caused from yeliing, screaming and singing incorrectly.

This is a photo of a vocal polyp which can be caused from yeliing, screaming and singing incorrectly.

Signs of Possible Vocal Damage And Abuse

Some signs of vocal damage and abuse include:

  • Laryngitis - hoareseness or a croaking sound including a complete loss of the voice
  • Vocal fatigue
  • A deepening of the voice
  • Throat pain, especially during performance
  • Vocal cord polyps

Note: Laryngitis can also be caused by a virus, acid reflex, allergies, or exposure to cigarette smoke and alcohol.

Always visit your doctor if you suspect vocal damage or vocal abuse.

Important Information To Test Your Voice

Foods To Avoid Before Singing

A healthy body is a healthy voice. Have you ever thought about the connection between your body and your singing?

Your body is your musical instrument. Unlike a guitar, violin, trumpet and other instruments, you do not have a case for your voice. There's no way to protect your singing instrument. When you're finished singing you don't have the luxury of laying your instrument in a protective area where it will be safe from the elements until you are ready to use it again.

What is my point? The only way to keep your singing instrument (your body) healthy is by adhering to proper diet and heart-healthy exercise. You've heard it all before - feed your body nutritious food and keep it moving. Exercise is crucial to a good vocal performance. I often require my vocal students to run in place before starting a lesson. And if their singing is monotonous and boring running in place brings energy and vitality to their voice.

Foods to avoid before singing:

  • Coffee, Tea (with caffeine)
  • Cola
  • Chocolate
  • Milk
  • Yougurt
  • Cheese (all kinds)
  • Ice Cream
  • Frozen Yogurt
  • All frozen products such as popsicles
  • Butter/margarin
  • Ice
  • Cold drinks including water. (room-temperature only)
  • All medications drying to the throat.

Foods Causing Mucous And Phlegm In The Throat

To avoid mucous/phlegm - avoid dairy products.

To avoid mucous/phlegm - avoid dairy products.

If you actually relax your vocal cords they actually work better. Alfonso Ribeiro

Facts About Your Voice You May Not Know

Here are a few facts about your voice you probably don't know. I hope you'll find them interesting and some may even be useful for understanding how the voice works:

  • The voice is amplified and becomes audible through spaces in the throat, mouth and nose.
  • The average speaking pitch for women is 'g' below middle 'c' and for men it's 'c' below middle 'c'.
  • More than 100 muscles work together when we sing or speak one single phrase.
  • The maximum length of the vocal folds is 16mm for an adult male and about 10mm for an adult female.
  • The correct term for vocal cords is vocal folds.
  • Your vocal range is determined by the size of your vocal folds (cords.) The larger your folds the lower your voice and the smaller your vocal folds the higher your voice.
  • The average vocal range is 3 and 1/3 octaves. That's considered a big range.
  • When you sing, sound comes out of your mouth at approximately 75 miles per hour. It's 1/2200, from the time the sound is made till it exits your mouth.
  • The oldest known account of singing is 3rd millinium B.C.
  • Singing releases endorphins which can help you feel happier instantly.
  • Humming will opne the sinus cavities.

Recommended Reading - About The Voice

Vocal folds used to be called vocal cords (and are still often referred to that way) because it was thought that they vibrated much like strings on a violin. This has been shown to be untrue. Read more...

http://www.lionsvoiceclinic.umn.edu/page2.htm#anatomy202

healthy-singing-avoid-vocal-damage

In Conclusion

Healthy singing stems from a healthy body. Nourish yourself with exercise, movement, nature and nutrition. Your body will respond in ways that will surprise you.

  • Each day hydrate your body with plenty of water. Add lemon or fruit if you like.
  • Avoid all yelling, screaming or overly loud conversation.
  • Avoid caffeine, cold drinks, alcohol and dairy products before singing.
  • Do not eat one hour before singing.
  • Avoid throat-drying medications.
  • Inhale steam to relieve sinus problems.
  • Gargle with warm salt water to calm a sore throat.
  • Sing within your vocal range. All high notes should feel easy and comfortable.
  • Maintain a positive attitude when singing.
  • No smoking

Carolyn Sloan, author of "Finding Your Voice" gives us this good advice: "Remember your true voice can only be arrived at with a relaxed concentration and careful attention to individuality.

There is no perfect voice. There is no such thing as 'recipe singing.' Meaning, a given exercise may be good for one but not for another. You are your best teacher. We are each one-of-a-kind instruments. Learn to celebrate that. Trust it and let go."

Thank you for being here. I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.

Resources and Suggested Reading

http://www.entnet.org/content/tips-healthy-voices

http://www.ohniww.org/katy-perry-voice-vocal-fry/

http://www.drugs.com/health-guide/vocal-cord-disorders.htmlhttp://www.drugs.com/health-guide/vocal-cord-disorders.html

: Titze, Ingo R. 1994. Principles of Voice Production. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, Inc., p. 178. (length of vocal folds)


© 2016 Audrey Hunt

Comments

Audrey Hunt (author) from Idyllwild Ca. on May 22, 2019:

Hello, suzettenaples. Singing with a community chorus is such fun and for sure, educational. Good for you!

I'm happy to know that this article is helpful. This is why I write. You've made my day. Thank you.

suzettenaples on May 20, 2019:

I sing with a community chorus and this was very interesting and enlightening! Thank you for sharing!

Audrey Hunt (author) from Idyllwild Ca. on November 15, 2016:

Songbird Bella

So nice to see you! Thanks for your interesting comments and welcome to Hubpages. I've written several hubs on the singing voice which may be useful to you.

I'll be happy to give you further advice - just send me an email stating your problem (s).

Wishing you much success

Audrey

Isabella Flowers from Miami, FL on November 15, 2016:

Thanks. I am new to Hubpages and found this very helpful. Teaching has wrecked havoc on my voice. Yet, when well rested I still love singing. I have to figure out how to maintain my vocal folds while teaching (unruly teens). Looking forward to more articles like this one.

Audrey Hunt (author) from Idyllwild Ca. on May 22, 2016:

Hi Dana

It breaks my heart when I hear stories like this. It happens all too often. The funny thing is: Criticism mostly comes from those who know little or nothing about the singing voice. Good musicians don't do this because they know the better singer we become the more there is to learn. It's called 'humility.'

Thanks for sharing this.

Audrey

Dana Tate from LOS ANGELES on May 21, 2016:

Vocalcoach

I found this hub very useful. I have a family member who had a voice kissed by God, she was an inspiring singer. She didn't have the skin to deal with criticism and so her dream never came true. She did try years later to sing again but her voice was not the same anymore.

Audrey Hunt (author) from Idyllwild Ca. on April 06, 2016:

rajan

Thank you for taking time to read my hub on singing. I appreciate your kind comments very much!

Hi Sha

Yes...75 mph is indeed incredible! About your co-worker...youtube features a few videos on this subject. You may find a tip or two there.

Thanks so much for being here my friend.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on March 30, 2016:

I had no idea our vocal cords are now called vocal folds, nor did I know our sung words leave the station at 75 mph. Incredible!

I have a co-worker who talks incandescently. I wish I could tell her to save her voice without being rude!

Interesting hub, Audrey. Thank you!

Rajan Singh Jolly from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA. on March 23, 2016:

Another excellent lesson in maintaining a great singing voice. Thanks. Sharing this ahead.

Audrey Hunt (author) from Idyllwild Ca. on March 14, 2016:

Dear Mike

Awww, gee, shucks, thanks my friend. And for the record...you are already a rock star!

mckbirdbks from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas on March 11, 2016:

Hi Audrey. You are a walking encyclopedia of the voice, singing and general well being through expressing yourself. I applaud you. Based on this Hub, I am going to launch my career as a rock star! haha

Audrey Hunt (author) from Idyllwild Ca. on March 08, 2016:

Carb Diva

I'm so sorry to hear about the bronchitis and chronic sore throat. What a shame! Do give the steam inhalation (daily) a try. Have you been seen by a Laryngologist? Thanks my friend.

Hugs,

Audrey

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on March 08, 2016:

Oh, how I miss singing! I used to sing in my church choir and did many solos and duets, but one year ago came down with severe bronchitis and have never lost the sore throat. I have been examined by every type of doctor and have had every test known to mankind. I will carefully review your recommendations. Thank you for sharing.

Audrey Hunt (author) from Idyllwild Ca. on March 08, 2016:

Denise - Thank you for sharing this with me. How talented you are!

Denise W Anderson from Bismarck, North Dakota on March 08, 2016:

Yes, I am still singing, and I love it! I direct a choir at church and perform in a seasonal community choir. I also do solo work on occasion. I still have a wide vocal range but am most comfortable with alto.

Audrey Hunt (author) from Idyllwild Ca. on March 07, 2016:

denise

I've done this as well - once! Are you still singing? Are you a soprano or alto? I'm an alto...wanna be a soprano. Thanks my friend.

Denise W Anderson from Bismarck, North Dakota on March 07, 2016:

I made the mistake of eating ice cream before a performance once. I never did that again! It is interesting to read about all of the things that can affect the voice.

Audrey Hunt (author) from Idyllwild Ca. on March 06, 2016:

MsDora

Thank you for being here. I truly appreciate your taking time to read my hub and leave your comments. Enjoy your day!

BlossomSB

You are so welcome my new friend. You have pointed out another occupation that causes vocal strain...being a Physical Education teacher.

Thank you for adding this information. And thanks again for your recipe for banana cake.

Bronwen Scott-Branagan from Victoria, Australia on March 06, 2016:

Thank you for a very helpful article. Another occupation that can cause voice problems is being Physical Education teacher. They have to call out loudly so frequently in the open air that it can cause great strain.

Audrey Hunt (author) from Idyllwild Ca. on March 05, 2016:

always exploring

Humming is good for the voice. About the only 2 things you can do to help bring much-needed moisture to the dried out vocal folds while on antihistamines is to increase your water intake and use glycerin based cough drops. Thanks my friend for leaving your comments.

Audrey

Audrey Hunt (author) from Idyllwild Ca. on March 05, 2016:

FlourishAnyway

How are you my friend? You've sure hit upon a good point! It's a wonder these politicians have any voice left at all! Bill Clinton has been abusing his voice for years. Maybe I should send him a copy of this hub. :)

Audrey Hunt (author) from Idyllwild Ca. on March 05, 2016:

Hi Bill - "The Voice" is one of the better television vocal competition shows. I too watch it from time to time. I've given up watching TV to devote more time to work on my book. I have this great editor that has patiently been waiting for a chapter. :)

hugs...

Audrey

FlourishAnyway from USA on March 05, 2016:

Excellent advice. Although they aren't singing, it made me think about Bill Clinton and all those politicians who are famously overusing their voices for months on end and end up with a raspy scratchy sounding voice that is so hard to discern.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on March 05, 2016:

Very interesting information about the voice, as well as practical suggestions to keep it healthy. Thank you very much.

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on March 05, 2016:

When I'm in church, and singing, I hum more than sing. This is due to allergies and the antihistamine I must take twice daily. Your tips are helpful. I don't think I drink enough water, so I'll make an effort to drink more. Thank you for the share...

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on March 05, 2016:

We watch "The Voice"....love that show. I see some contestants who just can't quite hit some notes....and I almost always think "I have a friend who is a vocal coach who could help them so much." That's you, my professional friend.

blessings and hugs....

bill