By now, we all probably know the benefits of adequate hydration: it’s good for cognitive function, energy, digestion, skin, and of course, your voice. But getting enough hydration isn’t always easy for many people, especially teachers.
As long as we’ve been working with teachers as clients (42 years), we’ve heard the same lament over and over again: “I can’t drink a lot of water in school. I’m a teacher. I don’t have any bathroom breaks!” (As an aside, I remember for all those years that I was an elementary school speech pathologist, teachers would look at me imploringly, eyeballs “floating”, wondering if I could watch their class for a few minutes while they ran to the bathroom! Trouble was, it seems I was always working with a group of speech and language students and couldn’t leave them).
Here’s the dilemma: every one of the teachers we’ve worked with has had a voice problem. And being well hydrated is key to resolving voice problems, and keeping voices healthy and well-functioning in general. So what are we supposed to do to solve this “parched or pee” dilemma? Never fear: the school year is here, and we have answers for you! (News flash: the advice that follows isn’t just for teachers; any busy working person can use it in some form. Even stay-at-home moms (and dads) can modify this regimen to fit their day, because, let’s face it, stay-at-home parents rarely stay home! They’re always running somewhere).
WHAT NOT TO DO
Let’s start with what NOT to do: stop having that GIGANTIC cup of joe on the way to work. That caffeine may dehydrate you and dry out your vocal folds because it’s a diuretic: it makes you pee! Exactly what you DON’T want! Coffee can also cause reflux, even decaf coffee. So it’s best to cut down on this tasty but tricky beverage. Imagine how much money you’ll save NOT stopping at your favorite coffee drive-up every morning 😊 And if you think that coffee is the only way you can be awake enough to face the day, think again: try less caffeine, exercising early in the day, getting more sleep, and…MORE WATER! Water will actually give you more energy. Maybe you won’t even need that coffee after all.
Also avoid alcohol, as it is also a “dryer and a fryer”: it dehydrates and can cause reflux. Obviously, avoid smoking, vaping, and smoke exposure. Even dust and cleaning fumes can irritate and dry your mucous membranes (which cover your entire respiratory tract, including your vocal folds).
Of course, we want you to be able to control your fall allergies, but just remember that antihistamines can dry your throat and vocal folds, while they’re busy drying up that runny sneezy nose. You might also want to avoid blasting that drying heat in your car on the way to work. You may not be able to control the heat in your classroom, but open the windows a bit and use some of our suggestions below.
WHAT YOU SHOULD DO
Drink water, but not the same amount every hour of the work day. Here’s a possible scenario to hydrate throughout the work day. Feel free to modify it as necessary to help you achieve your goal of ½ your body weight translated into ounces of water:
- Drink at least 16 oz. before you leave the house to go to work. Make sure to visit the bathroom before you leave.
- Depending on the length of your commute, you can sip water during your ride, and then pee before your first class.
- Keep sipping lightly throughout your morning classes and then a bit more just before your prep.
- Use your prep to hydrate more, and of course, pee before your next class.
- Use the same approach for lunch and any afternoon prep or break.
- Be sure to drink another 8-16 oz. of water with lunch.
- Then pee before the long (or not-so-long) ride home, and drink on the way home to rehydrate your tissues, especially if your school is very dry and dusty.
- Hydrate more once you’re home, and if you’re not comfortable drinking a lot of fluid at night, taper off toward bedtime. Make sure to have a full glass of water at dinnertime.
- Always increase hydration during workouts, walks, biking, gardening, or during any exertion activity.
Of course, there are a few other things you can do to keep your vocal folds moist and happy, and these don’t make you pee!
- Use a humidifier in your bedroom. The hot vaporizers are probably more effective than cool-mist humidifiers, and need less maintenance, but are not advisable if there are young children or pets to trip over wires or knock things over. The cool mist humidifier is a better choice for a classroom, provided that you are able to use one at school.
- Use a facial steamer before and after work. Our recommendation is the Conair Facial Sauna System. We use a sniffing or sipping motion to bring the steam onto the surfaces of the mucous membranes.
- Use a portable rechargeable nebulizer that uses sterile saline throughout the day. Our choice is the VocalMist voice nebulizer. Just make sure it’s charged (we do this overnight) and take one or two vials of 0.9% sterile saline with you to work. Unlike a facial steamer, there’s no warm-up time, so you can get a quick cool-mist treatment whenever you have even 60 seconds or longer: between classes, before a meeting or rehearsal…anytime you need to have a clearer voice with less effort. You can use nasal or oral breathing with your nebulizer with the included accessories.
- You can also “eat” part of your water. Fruits and vegetables like watermelon, cucumber, cantaloupe, strawberries, and zucchini are excellent sources of water. We also count soup (if it’s not too salty, which might make your vocal folds retain fluid) and herbal tea (but not regular caffeinated tea).
Stick with this routine, tweaking it as necessary. They say your bladder accommodates, and you’ll be able to more effectively handle increased water consumption. Give this new “staggered hydration” regimen a try: at school, at the office, even on your days at home. Let’s see if your voice…and your bladder…can both be winners!
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