Vocal Hygiene – the DOs and DON'Ts of Maintaining a Healthy Voice
We use it all day, every day. It's something we tend to take for granted. It is our primary method of communicating with the world. It is an important part of who we are as a person. It is our VOICE and it is vital that we take care of it. Vocal hygiene helps us feel better and sound better too! There are many "Do's" and "Don'ts" to keeping our voice healthy and strong. Some may seem obvious, while others not as much. Certain professions, such as teachers, lawyers, coaches and singers seem like the obvious culprits of vocal "abuse."
However, any individual who partakes in these abusive behaviors is subject to poor vocal hygiene and abusing/misusing their voices. Children are particularly at risk, as they tend to use a louder voice and are not always aware of the choices they make that can potentially be harming their vocal cords and overall vocal mechanism. Below is a basic review of the "DO's and DON'Ts" of maintaining a healthy voice. Think of your own personal habits and take note of any changes you can make to your everyday lifestyle that may help to improve the quality of your voice. It is the only voice we have and it is our job to care for it.
- Drink plenty of water (at least eight 8 oz glasses per day)
- Keep the air in your home somewhat moist. Ensure your environment is as smoke-free and dust-free as possible.
- Keep your voice at a comfortable pitch. Avoid screaming/yelling whenever possible.
- Create a quiet and comfortable environment at home. Walk up to your "communication partners" when you are speaking with them – do not shout across the room. Keep the TV or radio at a fairly quiet level to avoid shouting as well.
- Colds, allergies and sinus infections can greatly impact your vocal hygiene. Take care of the signs and symptoms as soon as you notice them.
- Whenever possible, keep your stress levels to a minimum. Increased tension levels can impact not only your vocal hygiene, but your overall well-being and mental attitude.
- Have an awareness of the impact your emotions have on you and your body, particularly if they cause stress or tension to your chest, jaw, throat, neck, etc.
- Pick specific times of the day to set aside for vocal rest. This is particularly important when you're sick or when you're tired.
- Use a microphone for all public speaking situations to avoid stress on your vocal cords.
- Learn to recognize signs of vocal fatigue and contact your physician if these signs or symptoms worsen over time. Do not self-medicate. Contact a professional as soon as possible.
- Avoid irritants, such as coffee, alcohol, soda, tea, and smoking.
- Avoid excessive coughing or throat clearing – this causes unnecessary strain on the vocal cords and forces them to "smash" together at a higher and more intense frequency than they typically would.
- Avoid loud places which force you to speak over environmental noises, such as a TV, radio, yelling from room-to-room, etc.
- Avoid over-the-counter medications when you have a cold/cough, as they tend to dehydrate or dry out the voice. In terms of vocal hygiene, they may do more harm than good!
- Don't speak without adequate breath support – "squeezing" out your words can be hazardous to your voice.
- Prolonged vocally-abusive crying or laughing can be harmful to your voice.
- Don't clench your teeth or your jaw.
- Do not force yourself to speak in a tone that is beyond a comfortable pitch.
- Don't ever whisper. Often when we are sick, we feel the need to whisper in an attempt to protect or rest our voices. In fact, whispering can be more harmful and more strenuous on the voice than speaking in your typical fashion.
- Don't allow prolonged exposure to a dry, dirty, dusty or smoky environment. This can greatly irritate the vocal cords and cause increased discomfort, especially if you are already sick.