Does your voice give out on you? Or get hoarse or raspy? Achy, sore? Do you lose it after loud talking?
You might have, or be on your way to, a vocal injury. Let’s nip that in the bud!
How do you know if you have a voice disorder or injury?
Most vocal injuries — like nodules (aka nodes), polyps, chronic laryngitis, vocal cord irritation or swelling — start out as hoarseness. Everyone gets hoarse sometimes, and in healthy voices the hoarseness goes away after the cause is gone (your cold clears up, you stop yelling, you get your acid reflux under control, etc.). If you have hoarseness lasting more than a few days with no obvious cause, that’s a sign there could be some damage to your vocal cords.
In addition to a hoarse voice, some other common signs and symptoms that folks associate with voice problems include raspiness, gravelly or rough voice, breathiness (like air is leaking out around the voice), loss of range (either high or low), inability to project or yell, strain or discomfort when talking.
The only sure way to know the status of your cords is to get an exam from a voice specialist. An Ear, Nose and Throat doctor or speech pathologist takes a video of the vocal cords, and the doctor makes any official diagnosis. Sometimes there is damage to the vocal cords, which is typically addressed through voice therapy.
What causes vocal cord damage?
Physical things that can impact the health of vocal cord tissue include:
- Certain medications that dry out the vocal cords
- Acid reflux (including “silent reflux” whose only symptom is voice problems!)
- Chronic sinus isses/post nasal drip
- Inhaling irritants like chemicals or dust
- Asthma/respiratory issues
- Overall health issues
Then there’s the number one issue: how you use your voice.
Your voice is created using about 100 muscles. That’s right — 100! Which muscles engage, how they activate, and how they coordinate with each other is a complex motor act. Which is funny, as speech is an automatic behavior. Body wisdom is a beautiful thing!
You might never have thought about the components of how we speak before. Here are some behaviors that affect the voice:
- Breathing patterns
- Tongue position
- Vocal placement
- Pitch variety
- Jaw tension/range of motion
- Physical tension
So what to do?
Good news — there is no mystery around how to heal a vocal injury and create a strong, flexible voice for years to come. Some suggestions:
- Hydrate your vocal cords
- Manage medical conditions including acid reflux
- Find a physical posture that keeps your voice channel open
- Use enough breath support for the vocal job at hand
- Avoid speaking in a monotone to help prevent vocal strain
- Know your vocal limits
- Adjust your vocal placement
What is vocal placement, you might ask? Placement refers to where the sound feels like it “lives” in your mouth. The idea is to place your voice in the front of your face to promote healthy vocal cord vibration. In other words, talk where you hum, not where you gargle.
The concept of placement can be tricky — here’s an audio demonstration to help clarify:
The challenge, of course, is knowing how to do these things.
Every body is different. Behaviors that would cause a problem for one person might leave another unscathed. That’s why you have to know your own voice, and sometimes the only way to do that is to get guidance from a professional like me. Contact me to learn how to heal your voice and stretch your vocal limits!