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Tips to Keep You Talkin’

Speaking loudly or over long periods may lead to a voice disorder.

Using your voice for extended periods of time or in loud environments may result in vocal fatigue.  Teachers, singers, and lawyers are among the top groups of people who are at risk of vocal fatigue, but anyone who frequently uses his or her voice may find themselves with diminished vocal abilities.  Symptoms of a tiring voice include soreness, hoarseness, and a weak or breathy tone. While it is certainly not unusual for anyone to experience brief periods of any or all of these symptoms, if the symptoms persist for more than a few weeks they may be signs of vocal overuse or misuse.  In these situations, it would be wise for the professional or amateur voice user to seek the advice and assistance of vocal coach and/or a voice therapist.

Hoarseness of breathiness may signal a voice disorder.

It is normal for the average person to experience relatively short and infrequent periods of a “sore throat” or hoarseness due to a cold or an overly boisterous evening at a sports game, for example.  However, if the symptoms do not subside, allowing the individual to return to their normal voice quality and level of use within the space of two weeks of easy and gentle voice use, they may be indicative of a more serious voice disorder.  

Stress can lead to forceful voice production resulting in possible tissue damage.

It may not be entirely intuitive that being stressed would have a significant negative effect on one’s voice.  However, stress often leads to excess muscle tension in the neck and shoulders, which can understandably impact the quality of the voice.  Relaxation and stress management techniques such as meditation or deep breathing exercises can significantly reduce that detrimental excess tension, allowing the voice to function as it should.

Caffeine and alcohol dehydrate vocal folds, which can make it more difficulty to keep them vibrating. Drink plenty of water to combat their drying effects.

Because of the importance that maintaining proper hydration has on the function of the voice, it stands to reason that ingesting any substance that would interfere with that hydration must be carefully monitored.  Caffeine, alcohol, and certain medications are all substances that negatively impact an individual’s hydration. While recent studies are indicating that the dehydrating effects of caffeine may not be quite as potent as previously thought, whenever it or any other substance with any dehydrating effect is ingested, the amount of water ingested should be adjusted to compensate.  A good rule of thumb is to drink an extra glass of water for every cup of coffee or shot of alcohol (or glass of wine or beer).

Repeatedly clearing the throat or coughing may irritate vocal fold tissues.

When a foreign substance (e.g. food or mucous) comes in contact with the tissues of the larynx, the normal response of the body is to expel the substance by coughing or clearing your throat.  While avoiding the aspiration of those substances into the lungs is certainly important, excessive coughing or clearing of the throat can cause irritation and inflammation of the vocal folds and surrounding laryngeal tissues.  Sipping water, swallowing, or sucking on a throat lozenge will reduce the urge to cough or clear the throat. If the urge persists, a “baby cough” may provide just enough impetus to expel the offending substance while causing minimal irritation to the vocal folds.


Frequent heartburn and a sour taste may mean stomach acids are spilling over into your larynx which may lead to voice problems.

GERD occurs when a muscle at the top of the esophagus either fails to close properly or spasmodically opens for some period of time.  This muscle malfunction sometimes allows fluids from the stomach to flow back up and out of the esophagus and spill into the larynx causing a condition called Laryngo-Pharyngeal Reflux (LPR).  Usually an episode of reflux occurs when the individual is lying flat or after having eaten a big meal or spicy foods. The acidic stomach fluids leaking into the larynx will cause inflammation and irritation, but the discomfort and acidic taste will often be gone by the time the voice is used, leaving the individual to wonder why his or her voice is hoarse and breathy.  If one experiences long-lasting hoarseness or weakness in tone, an ENT should be consulted. A visual examination of the larynx should indicate whether GERD or another voice disorder is to blame.

Smoking irritates tissues used for singing and talking.

Inhaling smoke carries hot, carcinogenic particles through the mouth, throat, and larynx and into the lungs.  As those particules pass through, many become embedded in the delicate and vulnerable tissues of the voice. It does not take much imagination to envision how much irritation those particles could cause.  Additionally, smoking is the leading cause of laryngeal cancer. Individuals who regularly rely on the use of their voice must strongly consider quitting smoking in order to protect the sensitive organs responsible for producing that voice.

Wishing you a healthy voice and a great communicating.. John