Voice and Vocal Hygiene

Have you ever experienced a change in your voice after a music concert or from talking too much? Maybe you were yelling across the hall at school and noticed a break in your voice. You may have possibly caught a case of laryngitis that is causing pain in your throat and making it difficult to communicate. In all of these scenarios, communication with those around you becomes more challenging. Let’s dive into ways to promote a healthy and strong voice!

What is Vocal Hygiene?

Vocal hygiene are the habits that an individual adopts to promote a strong and healthy voice. These habits help contribute to an efficient and positive vocal health. 

Often vocal problems occur due to a multitude of factors that can impact one’s psychosocial perception of their voice and alter the way they communicate. Here are symptoms that you might be experiencing that can indicate a voice problem. 

  • Soreness in your throat
  • Pain after talking
  • Hoarse and scratchy vocal quality
  • Altered loudness or pitch
  • Breathy and weakness in voice 
  • Shaky, strained vocal quality
  • Feeling out of air when talking 

If you are experiencing one or more of these symptoms, it is recommended that you seek help from an ENT. An ENT will often further examine the structural physiology of your voice mechanism. 

10 Tips for Good Vocal Hygiene

  1. Stay Hydrated– It is important to drink plenty of fluids to help keep your voice box moist. When staying hydrated, your body produces a mucus covering over your vocal folds that allow them to easily move and vibrate smoothly for communication. Similar to the monthly oil changes in your car, our vocal folds need to run smoothly.
  2.  External Moisture– While staying hydrated is essential for positive vocal health, external hydration is just as important. This allows your passageways and vocal folds to stay moist and soothing. You can achieve this through steam inhalation or using a room humidifier.
  3. Avoid exposure to irritating toxins such as smoke and reflux-  It is important to remember that anything you breathe in touches your voice box and can influence its performance. 
  4. Practice good vocal habits– Although it may be challenging, try to avoid throatclearing, coughing, and whispering. These habits cause harmful damage to your vocal folds overtime. 
  5. Be mindful of your breathing patterns– Try to breathe in through your nose versus your mouth. This helps prevent your voice box from becoming more dry and will moisten the air so you are ready to talk. 
  6. Avoid drying medications– Some OTC medications (e.g. cold, allergy, etc.) and cough drops are drying to the body.
  7. Be aware of your surroundings– Try to avoid talking in noisy situations so you don’t have to yell or scream when communicating. Yelling and screaming are considered misuse of the voice which can lead to harmful damage to your vocal folds. 
  8. Take a break when needed– Often people experience a loss of their voice or raspy quality after a concert or sporting event. It is okay to take a vocal rest afterwards until your voice is ready. This is normal.
  9. Warm up your voice before speaking or singing for long durations of time– It is recommended that you complete vocal warm-up and cool-down exercises. Some exercises include pitch glides and straw phonation to prevent fatigue.
  10. Be mindful of your body’s needs– Plenty of rest, good nutrition, and exercise is beneficial to your vocal health.

Voice Disorders

While vocal hygiene is important for our overall vocal health, it is possible to experience voice disorders from a result of medical conditions and vocal misuse or abuse. Below are common examples of voice disorders.

  • Acute Laryngitis: hoarseness and/or sudden voice loss due to a viral infection that has caused swelling in the vocal folds. The swelling in the vocal folds alters their ability to vibrate and move smoothly for vocal use. 
  • Chronic Laryngitis: swelling of the vocal folds that could be due to acid reflux, smoke, or infection impacting the vocal quality
  • Laryngopharyngeal Reflux Disease (LPRD): People report hoarseness, difficulties swallowing, throat pain, and feeling of something “stuck” in throat. This is due to the reflux stomach acids in the esophagus.
  • Vocal Fold Lesions: When there are lesions and/or bumps on the vocal folds, this structural change alters the vocal fold vibration and can lead to a change in vocal quality. A a common example is vocal nodules with singers, polyps, and cysts. 
  • Vocal Fold Hemorrhage: When misusing your voice after a strenuous activity such as yelling or screaming, blood vessels are occasionally damaged which can result in a loss of voice. 
  • Vocal Fold Paralysis or Paresis– Occasionally, individuals experience weakness and/or complete paralysis of the vocal fold. This can often occur after neurological damage (e.g. stroke) or after intubation. With VF paralysis and paresis, often the voice becomes more breathy and weak with decreased loudness.
  • Laryngeal Cancer: Individuals with laryngeal cancer may experience chronic hoarseness. It is imperative that you seek immediate medical attention to properly treat this medical issue.

Another condition that I’d like to highlight is presbyphonia, aging of the voice. With presbyphonia, one might become frustrated with their breathy and hoarse vocal quality as communication becomes more challenging. Check out this article to learn more!

How Can Speech Therapy Help

Speech therapy can be very beneficial for individuals who are experiencing a voice disorder. While the voice therapy regimen will vary based on the symptoms presented, research has found that voice therapy is effective for hoarseness and those experiencing a lower volume with a rapid rate of speech.

Here are some examples of voice disorders that speech therapy can help with:

  • Spasmodic Dysphonia
  • Vocal Fold Paresis and Paralysis
  • Vocal Fold trauma (e.g. status-post intubation)
  • Vocal Fold Lesions (e.g. nodules, polyps, cysts)
  • Presbyphonia

During your voice therapy session, our speech therapists aim to design and tailor voice tasks with an individualized approach that promotes healthy vocal behavior and incorporates a number of vocal fold exercises to improve vocal function for communication.

It is important to note that voice therapy is covered by Medicare if referred by a physician with a medical diagnosis. Private insurance companies vary, however, Speak Therapy LLC would be happy to provide a superbill for potential reimbursement from your insurance company. If you or a loved one is experiencing changes in your voice, schedule a free consultation today!

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