It’s that time of year again: holiday parties and reveling, New Year’s festivities, and LOTS of talking to friends and relatives. It’s also a time of stress, rushing, too little sleep, and too many germs invading our mucous membranes. So, it’s the perfect time to talk about voice care, now and throughout the year.
Winter can be brutal to the vocal folds (i.e., vocal cords), because of the dry heat blasting out into our homes and offices. Letting the mucous membrane linings of the respiratory tract dry out is like creating a “chink in the armor”: in come the invading germs. And if you get sick, and your vocal folds get swollen, you may end up straining your voice to speak or sing over those poor swollen cords.
For the voice, dry membranes create yet another problem: increased vocal effort. It takes more work to vibrate dry vocal folds than moist ones. Even though you may not feel thirsty in the winter, you need to hydrate more. A good rule of thumb is: drink half your body weight in ounces of water. You should be “peeing pale”! And water doesn’t mean coffee, caffeinated tea, alcohol, or soda. Those beverages actually dehydrate your vocal folds (caffeine and alcohol are diuretics), Try caffeine-free herbal tea (like chamomile) or fruit-infused water using a fruit infusion bottle or pitcher instead. Use cucumbers and melons in your fruit infusion for a refreshing alkaline beverage that’s really good for you!
Another way to moisturize your vocal folds directly (and instantly) is steaming. Steam inhalation brings those microscopic water droplets directly onto the vocal folds. (When you drink water, it has to go through your digestive system before it reaches your vocal folds). We recommend 5-10 minutes of steaming with a facial steamer, 1-2 times per day, more if you’re using your voice professionally, or if you’re not feeling well. And for you multi-taskers, you can steam while reading, watching TV, doing your hair or makeup, or getting dressed. See our Amazon-affiliated website store for a great facial steamer. https://provoicecare.net/recommended-products/vocal-health-wellness/ And don’t forget a vaporizer for your bedroom, also on our website store.
To keep your nasal membranes moist and healthy, I recommend nasal saline gels and sprays, as well as a neti pot or sinus rinse kit (to be used only with distilled or previously boiled water). There’s even a pre-mixed aerosol saline rinse, like a 21st-century neti pot. See our website store for examples of nasal irrigation products as well as nasal moisturizing sprays and gels. Also see our video on Winter Voice Tips here: https://youtu.be/nJg4ymic2sA We recommend these nasal moisturizing products be used throughout the day, especially if your home, classroom, or office is dry and overheated. (They’re great for dry air-conditioned places in the hot weather, too!).
If you’ve agreed to join the Christmas carolers this year, or you’re singing a New Year’s gig, you’ll want to take extra special care of your voice. Even if you’re just attending a New Year’s Eve party or show, it could be quite loud and therefore taxing on your voice. First, be sure to do vocal warm-up exercises and massages/stretches before you go to that party or gig. Several 2-3-minute warm-up segments throughout the day are preferable to one marathon warm-up session. See our video on circumlaryngeal (i.e., “around your voice box”) massage here: https://youtu.be/Tgtznzlnkk8 . Humming, lip trills/buzzes, or sirens through a straw are very efficient warm-ups that help prevent vocal strain. Watch straw technique videos in our blog here: https://provoicecare.net/straw-phonation-vocal-straw-exercise/
Next, steam before you leave for your gig/function. (Yes, you can do vocal exercises while you’re steaming). Also try our Singer’s Gargle, using very warm water, a pinch of baking soda, a pinch of sea salt, and a teaspoon of light Karo syrup to moisturize your throat. Hydrate before, during, and after your event. If it’s difficult to talk over the noise, get up close to your listener’s ear and speak at a normal volume. Don’t try to talk across a noisy room; you’ll likely strain your voice.
If you’re singing with a loud band, make sure you have an excellent monitor speaker, or better yet, in-ear monitors, so you can hear yourself and not push. If you can’t hear yourself while singing with the carolers, stick a finger in one ear and you’ll hear yourself just fine. Especially if you’re caroling outside, bring an insulated bottle of warm water or herbal tea with honey. Bring moisturizing honey-based or pectin-based non-mentholated lozenges with you (see our website store for these: https://provoicecare.net/recommended-products/vocal-health-wellness/ ). Menthol can irritate and dry your mucous membranes. And if you decide to imbibe at your holiday festivities, be sure to have a designated driver who abstains from alcohol. Safety first!
Finally, holiday revelry sometimes means rich fat-filled foods with chocolate and late eating…a perfect recipe for voice-wrecking acid reflux. Observe the “everything in moderation” rule, but try to avoid red sauce, fried or fatty foods, vinegar, mint, chocolate, carbonation, caffeine, alcohol, and of course, smoking…all big reflux triggers. And if you eat a reflux trigger food, pair it with something alkaline – raw veggies (skip the high-fat dip), or alkaline water, aloe water, or almond milk with that rich chocolate dessert. Wait at least 3 hours after eating before you lie down. Check the Anti-Reflux section of our website store for some great products and resources to help with reflux: https://provoicecare.net/recommended-products/anti-reflux-products/ .
So, to sum up, here’s a quick list of voice do’s and don’ts for the holidays (and always):
- Hydrate – ½ your body weight in ounces of water
- Steam Inhalation – 5-10 minutes, 1-2 times/day
- Use nasal saline moisturizing products
- Use non-mentholated lozenges
- Do vocal warm-ups in 2-3-minute segments
- Avoid vocal abuses
- Avoid dehydrating caffeinated and alcoholic beverages
- Avoid reflux trigger foods
Have a Happy New Year…and a Choice Voice!