How To Avoid Overusing and Abusing Your Voice

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Have you ever spent a Saturday loudly cheering on the Ohio State Buckeyes? Or are you a teacher who lectures daily in a busy classroom? If so, you may have experienced periods of increased hoarseness or may have even had a bout of laryngitis as a result.

Vocal hygiene is a term used to describe good habits that support a healthy and strong voice throughout your life. Having a healthy voice is vital to your daily communication. So protecting your voice is of the utmost importance.

Many factors influence the health and performance of your voice, but some modifications are relatively easy to incorporate into your daily lifestyle. Below are three tips to continue protecting your voice for years to come.

Watch Your Drinking

One of the easiest ways to maintain a healthy voice is to drink an adequate amount of water. In addition to its other, plentiful health benefits, water helps maintain adequate lubrication of the mucosal layer surrounding your vocal cords. Aim for a minimum of eight 8-oz. glasses of water per day.

On the other hand, it is also critical to limit or avoid excessive consumption of drinks that are harmful to your voice. Alcohol and caffeinated drinks, such as coffee and pop, tend to dehydrate the mucosal layer surrounding your vocal cords and sometimes contribute to hoarseness or an increase in mucous production. For each caffeinated or alcoholic drink that you consume daily, make sure to combat its effects with an additional glass of water.

Avoid Vocally Abusive Behaviors

"Vocal abuse" consists of any activity that strains or harms the vocal cords. Examples include talking too loud or too much or habitual throat clearing and coughing. During these types of actions, your vocal folds repeatedly slam together. Over time, this slamming together of the vocal cords may result in vocal pathologies, such as vocal cord nodules, cysts, or polyps. These pathologies can be painful, can result in permanent damage, and may require medical intervention to manage.

To avoid these common problems, engage in vocally healthy behaviors, such as:

  • Speak at a comfortable, conversational volume
  • Reduce environmental sound competitors such as a loud television or radio when speaking
  • Communicate with conversational partners face to face
  • Gargling with warm water to loosen mucous in the throat to avoid repeated coughing and throat clearing.

If you have engaged in vocally abusive behaviors or if your voice feels tired or strained, allow it time to rest.

Avoid Respiratory Irritants

The environments in which we spend the majority of our time can have a negative impact on our vocal health. Irritants such as auto exhaust, dust, strong smells from chemicals or perfumes, or products to which you are allergic or sensitive, may affect your breathing and speaking mechanisms and make them more susceptible to damage.

It is critical that you reduce or eliminate smoking or secondhand exposure to tobacco smoke, if possible, to reduce vocal irritation and reduce risks of developing laryngeal cancer.

Lindsay Reynolds, SLP, is a speech therapist at UH Warrensville Outpatient & Neuro Rehab.

Related Links

Working collaboratively with the referring physician and the physical medicine physician, highly trained speech-language pathologists are a vital component of the Voice & Swallowing Center at University Hospitals Ear, Nose & Throat Institute. Within this specialty center, our speech-language pathologists work alongside a variety of specialists such as otolaryngologists for improved outcomes. Learn more about voice and speech therapy at University Hospitals.

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