Care of the Voice
Caring for your voice is a lifelong process, that requires vigilance to protect a very personal part of yourself from becoming seriously injured. Often called "Vocal Hygiene", caring for your voice means learning to pay attention to the signals that your voice gives you so that you take the necessary steps to avoid getting injured in the first place. It also requires that you think ahead, learning to change certain behaviours which might lead to an injured voice.
Your vocal folds require moisture to work effectively. Anything that dries them out, from various drugs to any number of drying environments, should be avoided. There is a famous saying among singers "pee pale". To pee pale one must drink enough water that you pass a lot of water when you urinate. This means that you have more than enough water for your system to handle, which guarantees that your vocal folds will be well "irrigated". How much water is that? Six to eight glasses per day - it is a lot! Most people actually go around slightly dehydrated all the time. With the popularity of bottled waters on the rise, this has changed significantly in recent years, but you don't have to drink expensive water to be healthy. Make sure your water source is good, and get guzzling.
Beware the following "drying" irritants:
- cocaine (those that will admit to using it)
- vitamin C (especially in large doses)
- cigarette smoke
- marijuana smoke (often unfiltered, it can do more damage. If you "must" smoke pot, use a bong.)
You may be able to continue to use some of these items by drinking lots of water to compensate for their drying effects. Before a performance, or strenuous voice use, avoid them altogether. Of course, smoking is highly dangerous both to the health of voice (your lungs and larynx and mouth and throat) and of your body (including your heart). Quitting smoking is strenuously recommended by all voice teachers, though we understand how hard it can be. If you are having trouble quitting smoking, seek advice, especially from a doctor, as they can now prescribe gums and patches to help you fight the need to smoke. As for the caffeine, some people have recommended in the past that voice users "avoid brown drinks", which would be a suggestion to avoid coffee, tea, hot chocolate, cola and rootbeer because they tend to have caffeine in them. However, many non-brown drinks now have caffeine added to them, so you should be careful in choosing a "clear" drink over a brown one. By the way, decaffeinated coffee may have some caffeine in it (e.g. Starbuck's House Blend still has 3% of the original caffeine in it: it is NOT caffeine free.)
Some irritants are problems because they cause the creation of copious thick
mucous. The best way to deal with mucous is to be hyperhydrated so that the
mucous remains thin, and can drain away.
Things to watch out for:
- dairy products
- allergens & pollutants
The next group of things to watch out for tend to create upset stomach, which
can cause gastric reflux. In this situation, the acids in the stomach rise
up the oesophagus to irritate the tissues of the vocal folds.
Watch out for:
- spicy foods
- fad diets
The last group of irritants each has its own story:
- aspirin & ibuprophen: make it easier to have a haemorage on the vocal fold
- birth control pills: occasionally affect the vocal folds much in the same way that PMVS does in some women
- fatigue: when your body is tired, your voice is also. Pay attention to these cues!
Many people injure their voices by working too hard - by trying to compete against the sounds of loud machinery, loud music or crowd noise. If that is the case, try to use amplification equipment if it is appropriate. As stated before, you want to avoid drying environments. Some industrial spaces, frequently rented for rehearsal space at low cost, are actually toxic - not just to your voice but to your whole body. They may also have been used for industries that carry lots of allergens. I once worked in an abandoned fur trade building, and half the cast was allergic to the giant dust bunnies roaming the halls.
Avoid or use caution in spaces which are:
Voice Care: Remedies
Obviously you want to rehydrate your voice as best you can. Work in a humidified environment, if possible. Drink lots of water. Inhale steam - there are now portable steam inhalers available on the market, though the old technique still works well (and is great for your skin):
- boil a pot of water on the stove
- once boiling, remove the pot from the stove top
- place your head over the steam
- place a towel over your head and the pot
- breathe deeply
I recommend that you do not use a throat spray to stop the pain. Chloroseptic has a spray product out that numbs the feeling, which can lead to your doing even more damage to your voice. If you're in that much pain, you should be able to get an understudy. The show must go on doesn't mean "the show must go on at your expense!"
This is a list of lozenges that have been recommended to me by a number of colleagues and friends over the years.
- Fisherman's Friends
- Meloids (can be found in Canada at Shopper's Drug Mart. Online, they are available from Canadian Pharmacy Choice.)
- Slippery Elm
- Larydol (homeopathic)
- Zinc lozenges (put under tongue for sore throat, one per day)
- Red Indians Ginseng throat drops
- Avoid lozenges with analgesics
Teas & Drinks
Most of these just make you feel better. Warmth helps sooth the pain, lemon is an astringent - so only use it when you feel like you have tons of mucous.
- Lemon & hot water
- Herbal Teas
- Ginger & Ginger Tea
- Traditional Medicinals ® "throat tea"
- Pure Ginseng Tea
The following are herbal/naturopathic medicines that I know little about. I pass them on for interest sake, though I have never tried them and can't say that I recommend them as a result. My colleagues Diane Pitblado and David Smukler passed them on to me.
- Collimsonia herbal tincture
- 1 tsp. lobelia leaves
- boil in 1 c. water, let simmer
- add touch of honey
- can use in spritz bottle to get to back of throat
Immune System Boosters
- Golden Seal (Decongestant & Expectorant)
- Steam Inhalations
- Olbas tincture
- Eucalyptus Essential Oil
- Frankincense Essential Oil
More on Care of the Voice
An indepth listing of things to do and not do with your voice. From the University of Pittsburgh Voice Centre.
A "complete sinus irrigation system for natural relief of nasal congestion", this is a new "neti pot", a yogic tradition, for cleansing the nasal passages. This can be a real help for those with chronically clogged nasal passages.
Now Available without a Prescription. Yup, the gum that's not supposed to taste good is now available full strength from your pharmacist. Details here (from SmithKline Beecham).
Habit to Die For
Want to really know why quitting is so hard, and why it is so important that you do it today? Read all about it on the Smokehelp.org website.