PART 2: BAD THINGS DOWN!
OK, so we’ve told you all about the good things you can increase to create healthy voice conditions. But you know we’ve got to talk about the bad things that you have to reduce as well. (You didn’t think we’d let you get off easy, did you?). Let’s try to make this as painless as possible. And just like the good things, don’t be too hard on yourself if you feel like you can’t reduce or eliminate all of the things; just start with one. You’ve got this!
I can already hear those plaintive cries: “Don’t take away my morning cup of joe”. Or my late morning cup, or mid-afternoon cup, or dinner cup….. Coffee is a dryer and a fryer: it dehydrates and is typically acidic and/or promotes reflux. Even decaf has some caffeine and is acidic. Try substituting a healthy, caffeine-free tea like chamomile or Throat Coat tea, if you tolerate it, for a soothing, non-acidic and non-drying alternative. (Insider Tip: Karen Sussman makes a “fake latte” with heated almond milk, flavored almond milk creamer, and a sprinkle of pumpkin pie spice for a delicious and soothing caffeine-free, dairy-free beverage).
Uh-oh, not alcohol too?? Especially with the stress everyone has been under? Yup, ‘fraid so. Alcohol is also a dryer and fryer, and a sure-fire way of causing vocal irritation. Worse yet, alcohol is often consumed in social situations, which could be noisy and promote vocal abuse. Alcohol can lower the level of inhibition that would normally keep you from being loud. And it changes the way you perceive and control your voice, so before you know it, you could be smacking those poor acidified, dehydrated vocal folds together and asking for injury. Reduce your alcohol intake and make sure to drink extra water if you do partake.
We feel like we shouldn’t even have to state something this obvious. But if you haven’t figured out at least 5 other reasons why it’s prudent to quit (especially now, with the effects of Covid-19 on the respiratory system well-known), here’s another one: smoking will make it difficult, if not impossible, to have a good voice. (We usually advise our smoking clients to quit before they can really make progress in studying voice). Smoking causes vocal fold irritation, swelling on the cords, lowering of pitch, cough, laryngitis, increased mucus, and sore throat, not to mention the likelihood of laryngeal cancer. Smoking even increases the likelihood of acid reflux, further irritating your cords.
And don’t delude yourself into thinking that vaping is safe: you’re inhaling toxic chemicals from the vaping juice. According to the Osborne Head & Neck Institute, if the delicate lining of the vocal cords is exposed to hot, vaporized chemicals, the tissues are likely to undergo changes and lose their ability to behave normally. This may produce hoarseness, loss of vocal range, voice fatigue, or vocal injury. Best to avoid smoking and vaping (and passive smoke exposure) at all costs.
According to famed laryngologist Robert T. Sataloff, MD, smoking marijuana can cause voice dysfunction. For high-level voice users such as opera singers, intoxication or alteration in cognitive function from any cause can alter fine motor control and result in voice injury. Smoking marijuana can also cause:
- Vocal cord scarring (with decreased range)
- Traumatic injuries (polyps, nodules, etc.)
- Pre-cancerous changes
- Lung disease
For all of the above reasons, professional voice users should avoid smoking marijuana.
It seems like acid reflux is the malady of the 21st century. Bad enough when you have the heartburn-type of reflux, but the majority of reflux sufferers may indeed have the “silent” type of reflux. This is the kind professional voice users need to watch out for, as it can adversely affect vocal function. Your cords can literally be “bathed in acid”. So, avoid triggers such as tomato products, fried or greasy food, vinegar, mint, citrus, spicy foods, chocolate, eating late (defined as eating within 3 hours of lying down, even for a nap), bending over (or doing an abs workout!) on a full stomach, or even wearing tight clothing around your middle. We singers have one other occupational hazard: when we used our phenomenal abdominal breath support muscles, we squeeze on our stomach contents and up comes that acid. For a great resource on managing your reflux, check out Dr Jonathan Aviv’s book, The Acid Watcher Diet!
This one should seem so obvious, but we can’t stress this enough: nothing you learn from sessions at Professional Voice Care Center will work effectively if you continue to abuse your voice. It really only takes a few minutes of screaming each day to keep vocal cord nodules around. Makes it rather difficult to get your beautiful voice back when you continue to crash those vocal folds together mercilessly. Watch out for these common phonotraumatic behaviors:
- Screaming and yelling
- Shouting from one room to another (or through the bathroom door!)
- Talking over noise or loud music
- Speaking loudly and forcefully
- Forceful throat clearing
- Vocal imitations and sound effects
- Excessive or loud laughing and crying
- Grunting (e.g., while lifting something heavy)
- Speaking with anger in the voice
Here are some simple fixes to avoid the above behaviors: walk over to the person you want to speak to, because if they’re further than arm’s distance, they may be too far away to converse with; lower/eliminate background noise such as TV, music, running water, etc. or walk into another, quieter room to converse; be aware of not speaking too loudly, and even consider a loudness app such as dBX to keep track of your vocal volume; get your hearing checked, as hearing loss can make you speak louder without realizing it; speak softly instead of whispering; use a sip water/hard swallow or a silent huff of air (like the air noise you make when you “huff” onto your glasses to clean them) to clear your throat. Watch our video on throat-clearing for more practical tips here: https://youtu.be/g08xM0MU_tI
The 21st century has brought with it a number of challenges, among them, incredibly bad posture, fueled partially by the increasing need to stare endlessly at our devices. The rounded shoulders, dropped chest, and craned or dropped-down head have wreaked havoc with our voices and our ability to take a full breath. The delicate muscles around your larynx (the “voice box”) are constantly being pulled tight by lifted chins, craned necks, dropped ribcages, and phone-holding with our shoulders up against our ears and our necks bent at all the wrong angles. We’re also getting stiff necks, headaches, jaw problems, and back aches at an alarming rate, due to this unfortunate trend. See our blog on correct posture while using a laptop https://provoicecare.net/if-your-voice-is-bothering-you-it-could-beyour-laptop/ and this site: https://backintelligence.com/ as helpful resources.