It’s been a pretty mild December in NY so far, but winter will soon be upon us, and with it comes the drying effects of the heat coming on in our homes, schools, and offices. Our skin starts to feel dry, we get paper cuts and ripped cuticles, our lips get chapped…and our throats feel dry. We know that moist vocal folds vibrate more easily with less force than dry vocal folds, and allow us to have clearer, less strained voices. But most of us don’t like freezing with the heat off to avoid that drying effect. So, we need to figure out ways to moisturize before we vocalize, so that speaking and singing are effortless and clear. Here are some quick tips to achieve that goal.
This is not a new idea; we’ve been talking about this forever, it seems! The challenges are to drink more water even when you feel less thirsty in the cold weather, and to remember to drink while wearing a mask. It’s just that your mucous membranes need to be moist to stay healthy…and right now, staying healthy is SOOOOO important. As we explained in our past blog on hydration, and our hydration video, moist mucous membranes are the “armor” that protects you from the germs of the outside world. Don’t allow a “chink” in that armor: keep your membranes moist! Bonus: staying well hydrated can help improve your energy level, and help with weight loss, digestion, skin, and mental clarity. We could all use these!
Suggestions to stay hydrated this winter:
- Drink ½ your body weight in ounces of water, more if you are active, sing, act, dance, work in a hot environment, or sweat a lot.
- If you don’t like plain water, get an infusion bottle and add berries, melons, lemon slices, or cucumber to the water.
- Eat water-filled fruits and veggies like watermelon, strawberries, cucumber, celery, and zucchini.
- Avoid caffeinated beverages, cola, and alcohol, which can all tend to increase the likelihood of acid reflux and tend to dehydrate you.
- Try herbal (caffeine-free) tea or even warm water with honey, if you tolerate it, to hydrate and soothe on a raw winter day.
- If you don’t like drinking a lot of water at once, try sipping throughout the day, but remember to keep refillable water bottles or glasses everywhere you go, so you don’t forget.
- Use water-tracking apps, smartphone reminders, or associating glasses of water with daily activities (e.g., meals, teeth-brushing, taking vitamins or meds, etc.), to keep track of how much water you’re having. Quick tip: if you use disposable 16 oz. bottles, put the caps from the empty bottles into your pocket, and see if you amass at least 4 caps (i.e., 64 oz.).
STEAM OR NEBULIZE
So, you say you’re just not a water-drinker? If you try the above suggestions for hydration, and you’re still not getting anywhere, then make sure to use steam inhalation or breathe nebulized saline. We should all use these methods even if we are good with hydration. Steaming is like breathing a glass of water directly onto the surfaces of the vocal folds. When we drink water, it has to go through our digestive system first, before reaching the vocal mechanism. That’s delayed hydration. Steam is immediate. We need both!
We’ve moved beyond steaming over a pot of boiling water, although people certainly still use this method. Just be careful! My favorite way to breathe warm steam is using a facial steamer, sometimes called a facial spa. Make sure to “sip” or “sniff” the hot steam, rather than “gulp” it, so that it doesn’t irritate the back of your throat or make you cough. 5-10 minutes 1-2 times a day is the goal, more if you don’t feel well or you have to sing. (See our blog and video on steaming).
Now, research has shown that breathing cool nebulized saline is even more effective at breaking up mucus and moisturizing the surface of the vocal folds than hot steam. The product we recommend, VocalMist, is portable, rechargeable, and even comes with a face mask or nozzle for easy nasal or oral inhalation. It needs no warm-up time, unlike the hot facial steamer, so even if you only have a couple of minutes before your audition, show, or recording session, you can nebulize your way to happy vocal cords! Here’s our full-length video and our quickie video on VocalMist, as well as our VocalMist blog.
(Please Note: because of the pandemic, we don’t recommend using the nebulizer at the performance venue in the presence of others, but rather in your car or home before the show). The VocalMist comes with the vials of 0.9% sterile saline, which are also portable. Here is the link to VocalMist and other voice moisturizers on our website store. (Please Note: As an Amazon Associate, Professional Voice Care Center earns money from qualifying purchases. As a VocalMist Partner, Professional Voice Care Center earns money from qualifying purchases.)
Vaporizers and humidifiers can be a great way to moisturize the air inside your house. According to an article on Healthline from 3/8/2019, humidity levels of 30% or lower can cause a number of issues, from static electricity to dry skin and nosebleeds. And when cold and flu season hits, dry air can make breathing issues worse. The Mayo Clinic recommends humidity levels of 30% – 50%. Here’s the Mayo Clinic’s take on the pros and cons of humidifiers.
Both hot steam vaporizers and cool mist humidifiers work to moisturize your mucous membranes including your vocal folds. Make sure to follow the manufacturer’s directions for cleaning them. The cool mist humidifiers have a greater likelihood of building up mold and mineral deposits; distilled water is recommended. The hot steam vaporizers have less likelihood of this, but because they’re hot, they’re not recommended around pets or children. If you have indoor allergies, like dust mites, make sure not to let your home’s humidity level go above 50%, according to Healthline, since allergens can thrive in moisture. (See the hot steam vaporizer I use at home in our Voice Moisturizers and Soothers section of our website’s Products Store)
SUMMING IT UP
Make sure to moisturize before you vocalize, by drinking water, breathing steam or nebulized saline, and humidifying your home. Avoid caffeine and alcohol, and of course, smoke, fumes, mentholated cough drops, or anything else that could dry or irritate your vocal folds and respiratory system in general. Finally, here’s my coolest tip for multi-tasking on busy days (when is the day not busy? 😊): vocalize while you moisturize, by vocalizing over your steamer or while using your saline nebulizer treatment. Happy vocalizing and stay healthy!