Rehabilitation Services: 6 Tips to Improve Your Vocal Health
By Rita-Mary O’Donnell, MS, CCC-SLP, Speech Language Pathologist
For most of us, our voices are something we don’t contemplate often. Though we use our voices every day, we don’t think much about it - at least not until something goes wrong. According to a survey by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders in 2014, “an estimated 17.9 million U.S. adults, ages 18 or older, report having had a problem with their voice in the past 12 months.” For many of these individuals, everyday habits may be contributing to these vocal problems. Consider these six easy tips as a guide to help improve your vocal health.
- Stay hydrated! As we speak, vocal cords vibrate more than 100 times per second, which can create friction. Drinking plenty of water helps thin out your mucus to support your voice box in staying lubricated. Limit intake of caffeine and alcohol which can dry out your throat. If your house is dry, consider using a humidifier.
- Use your voice wisely. Avoid speaking at extremes of your vocal range, such as screaming or yelling. Try finding a substitute to raising your voice. Use a whistle to call your dog, a noisemaker to cheer for your favorite team, or flicker the lights to quiet the classroom. If you are frequently projecting your voice throughout your day, consider amplification.
- When you are sick, rest your voice! If you are hoarse due to a cold or an upper respiratory infection, avoid talking altogether. Do not whisper, as this can actually increase strain in your voice.
- Don’t clear your throat too often. When you clear your throat, your vocal cords grind together. Doing this too frequently may result in inflammation of the voice box. Try a sip of water or a ‘hard swallow’ to resist the urge to clear. If you notice you are clearing your throat frequently, discuss this with your doctor as it may be a sign of acid reflux disease or due to allergy/sinus issues.
- Stay loose and manage stress! High stress or tightness in the upper back, shoulders, and/or neck can lead to excessive tension in the voice box. Gentle neck and shoulder stretches can be helpful in keeping these muscles relaxed.
- Don’t ignore persistent symptoms. If vocal symptoms persist for longer than two weeks, ask your primary care physician about a referral to an ENT (Ear Nose and Throat Doctor). Your ENT can perform assessments to determine if you would benefit from working with a speech-language pathologist to improve your voice.
If you are experiencing vocal symptoms, Wentworth-Douglass Rehabilitation Services may be able to help you get back on the right track. Our speech language pathologists (SLPs) are trained to evaluate and treat voice disorders in addition to swallowing, speaking, language, and cognitive impairments. For more information, contact us at (603) 740-2101 or visit wdhospital.org/rehab.