Posted on: May 10, 2017
While everything from flowers to trees are coming alive, so are springtime allergies. As plants begin to release pollen, nearly 50 million people in the U.S who suffer from seasonal allergies start sneezing, sniffling and coughing. This is the time of year when it’s especially important to put thought and energy into protecting and preserving your voice, as any type of inflammation could lead to vocal issues. Often we don’t realize how important our voice is, or how much we need it, until we lose it. Here, I’ll explain the four components of your voice, the importance of caring for it, and tips to prevent the risk of permanent damage. By Veronica Cea, M.S, CCC/SLP, Speech Language Pathologist at Northern Westchester Hospital.
This is the Voice! The Fundamentals of Voice Production…
Breath Support: Breathing supports your voice and gives it power. Good breath support, or efficient breathing, is absolutely essential for speaking, singing or using your voice in any way. If you aren’t breathing correctly, your voice may sound shaky or weak.
Phonation: Our sound source. When our vocal folds open and close repeatedly, sound waves are produced in the air which create the basic tones of our voices. In women, the vocal folds open and close around 200-220 times per second – making for a higher-pitched sound. Whereas in men, vocal folds open and close about 100-125 times per second for men, causing a lower-pitched voice. If your vocal folds become dry or stiff, your throat may feel uncomfortable and your voice may become irregular.
Resonance: How rich our voice sounds. Resonance gives us the ability to control the carrying power or projection of our voice. If you resonate your voice in your nasal passage or your throat you will either sound nasally or muffled, respectively.
Articulation: Our lips, teeth, tongue, nasal cavity and more play an important role in creating specific sounds and shaping the airstream coming out of our mouth. If you compare English to Spanish, or Spanish to French, you will see how different languages require different articulation.
Care for Your Cords!
Now that you know the important components that go into creating your voice, it’s important to learn how the slightest change – allergies, a cold, or even raising your voice too loud – can change the way we sound. Often times you’ll hear about famous singers who have had to cancel shows due to vocal health issues. While most of us rely on our voice for work presentations, phone calls or the occasional car karaoke on our way home from work, it’s equally important to address voice issues that persist right away, as they are often times very treatable when caught early on.
Do you find yourself sounding hoarse, nasally or raspy? Do you constantly have to clear your throat? Or, does it take a lot of effort to speak?
Here are some tips to care for your voice in order to avoid long-term damage.
- If you smoke, quit. Also avoid secondhand smoke as smoke irritates the vocal folds. Also, cancer of the vocal folds is seen most often in individuals who smoke.
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! Drink more water. Whatever you drink now… double it. Try “sip and speaking,” especially for extended periods of talking. Minimize your intake of caffeine and alcohol.
- Take deep breaths and practice efficient breathing.
- Our sinuses and throats have been dried out from indoor heat during winter. You can use a facial steamer for 5-10 min to hydrate the body parts that keep the voice healthy.
- Limit strain on your voice. If you have laryngitis or sore throat, limit talking above conversational level: have more one-on-one conversations and limit raising your voice. Try bringing an air horn to athletic games, rather than raising your voice.
- If you have acid reflux, especially if it enters the throat area, it can cause inflammation in the throat, sometimes making your voice difficult to hear. It’s important to see your gastroenterologist and/or laryngologist if you are experiencing symptoms such as excessive coughing, mucus production or throat clearing.
- Avoid menthol throat lozenges as these can dry the throat out.
- Finally, be aware of your posture! Uneven pressure can cause strain on the vocal cords.