Our voice is our unique finger print. A good working voice box is especially important for professionals, such as teachers and singers but we all require our voices to perform on a daily basis.
The pitch of our voice changes according to the length, weight and tension of the vocal folds, V shaped structures within the voice box (larynx) situated in the upper part of the neck. They behave like the strings of a violin bow. They come together when we talk and part when we breathe. The resonance in our voice is based on the structures above, i.e. the tongue, nose, lip, mouth and throat, all of which are involved in making our own unique sound. Male and female voices differ because of the anatomical differences but there is some overlap in their frequency range, which makes transgender voice change feasible.
The voice box is delicate and sensitive to anything that dehydrates it, so diet and lifestyle are important factors in keeping your voice vibrant.
Read on for the 12 steps on how to achieve and keep a vibrant voice now and in preparation for the future changes you will encounter in your life journey.
The 12-steps involve:
Water >> drink it.
Steam >> do it.
Acid Reflux >> reduce it.
Smoke>> don’t do it.
Alcohol >> reduce it.
Caffeine >> keep an eye on it.
Medical problems/medications >> affect it.
Hormones >> affect it.
Warm-ups >> work those muscles!
Throat clearing >> don’t do it.
Shouting/overuse >> don’t force it.
Stress >> recognise and manage it.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate: Replacement of the 1.5 litres of water we lose every day is important; more when our fluid loss increases due to a temperature or laryngitis (inflammation of the voice box) where the voice becomes husky or may even be temporarily lost.
Steaming: This is particularly important when you are ill with a cold/laryngitis as the icky mucus this produces tends to fall on your voice box, making you feel compelled to throat clear and cough like crazy. Steaming is helpful for improving the hydration of the voice box if you have a cough, prior to a vocal performance or even if your throat just feels a bit dry.Cover your head with a towel and look face down over a bowl of hot steaming water, breathing deeply into it. This can be done twice a day; more so if you have laryngitis.
Reflux and Diet: Spicy, fatty foods and overeating predispose to acid reflux, which dehydrates and irritates the voice box and causes coughing which in itself is also bad news. Simple lifestyle measures such as smaller meals; not eating within three hours of bedtime, sleeping on the left side and elevating the head of the bed by 6 inches or so (e.g. using a reflux pillow wedge) can all help. If these measures fail you should seek the advice of your GP.
Smoking: Smoking dehydrates and causes inflammation of the voice box causing coughing and increasing the risk of laryngeal cancer. It also causes reflux. Stopping smoking will have the greatest benefit for your voice as well as reducing your risk of cancer. Speak to your GP for ways you can be helped to quit.
Alcohol: Alcohol, unfortunately is another vice that dehydrates the voice box and causes reflux. It can also further compound the effects of smoking in causing voice box problems and cancers.
Caffeine: Caffeine in excess can lead to dehydration which can cause reflux. Speech therapists tend to recommend a maximum of three caffeinated drinks a day and for each, an additional glass of water should be consumed.
Medical problems and medications: There are a number of long-term medical problems that are associated with voice problems either directly or from the medications that are being used. Steroid inhalers, commonly used by patients with respiratory disorders such as asthma and chronic obstructive airway disease (COPD). If the inhaler technique is incorrect, the drug can coat the voice box and throat leading to a husky voice and thrush. To prevent this, it’s really important to gargle with water (or salt water) after using your inhaler as rinsing or brushing your teeth alone is not effective. The dehydrating effects of diabetes, beta blockers and certain antidepressants can also adversely affect the voice; patients with Parkinson’s disease and lung cancers may develop a weak or hoarse voice as an early symptom.
Hormones: We tend to think about the effects of puberty on the male voice, however menopause also changes voice quality due to loss of collagen and muscle in the voice box. Similar changes also occur in men.
Vocal warm-ups, lip and tongue base relaxation: Producing the voice involves the perfect co-ordination of a complex of internal and external neck muscles, which support the voice box. It is worth your while stretching these, particularly if you are about to do something where your voice needs to be at its best. Classically trained singers are often taught sound warm-up techniques by their vocal coaches of doing musical scales (do-re-mi…), glides (saying “e” from a low to high pitch and vice versa), tongue and lip trills and sirening noises, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eOVNDXFIN2c . Additionally, poor posture, teeth grinding (bruxism) and carrying tension in our jaws all reduce the ability of the mouth and voice box muscles to relax to give you your best voice. These exercises and simple stretches of the jaw and neck are a great way to relieve any stress or tension prior to an important performance.
Throat clearing/coughing/sensitive voice box: Have you ever had that weird lumpy feeling in your throat, which often starts after a cold and stays for weeks where you feel that your mucus is so thick that it needs to be cleared to get some relief? When this sensation happens we tend to throat clear. Whilst it feels like it’s relieving that thick feeling; it is harmful to the throat and the voice box causing the delicate vocal folds to slap together forcefully and roughening up the surfaces of the throat. Drinking ice cold water can break the cycle and only doing a “Queen’s throat clear”, i.e. a gentle “ahem” if necessary. For those with a cough persisting more than 3 months it is important that you seek advice from your GP.
Vocal overuse: Overusing the voice for long stretches or shouting may be inevitable in certain jobs but overuse of the voice can cause problems; you may need to rest it, hydrate and/or steam. It is particularly important to rest the voice when we are ill with laryngitis and when the throat feels dry and sore or the voice is husky, because we have spoken too much; continuing to push your voice can cause lumps and bumps to form in the voice box, which are generally benign (i.e. not cancerous) but nonetheless can be a problem and may oven need surgery.
Stress: The voice has been quoted as being the most emotional organ in the body, as our happiness and sadness is often reflected in our voice, in its pitch and quality. It is the most telling thing about us and it is hard to disguise our true emotions in our voice. Sometimes stress can manifest as tension in our voice (muscle tension) when this continues and the wrong muscles are used to produce a voice it can lead to lumps and bumps in the voice box or a “lost”, whispering voice. It is important to be able to recognise and manage stress and the effects it may be having on your health, voice and other aspects of your life.
Lastly, hydrate, hydrate, hydrate – with all steps I have given pick one that you realistically can change and make little changes not big ones to make this a realistic, life-long change.
Enjoy your voice it is unique and part of you and your identity so look after it and be vivaciously vibrant with it!
Miss Dulani Mendis, B.Sc., MBA, FRCS (ORL-HNS) is a fellowship trained Ear, Nose and Throat Consultant Surgeon with a specialist interest in noses, children’s surgery, skin cancer and voice.
To find out more about any of the treatments or to discuss professional-level skincare, please get in touch:
Contact No: 07548 964367
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