Caring for Your Voice During the Winter Months
As you probably know, urban legends and ‘old wives’ tales’ gain steam during the winter months when it comes to the catching of colds and the spreading of germs. I am most definitely NOT a medical professional but I do know a few things about vocal health. I thought I’d share some info on how to keep those vocal folds primed during the bitter winter months.
The vocal folds function best when the entire body is well hydrated. They do not receive direct hydration (not intentionally, anyway!) because fluids and food enter the body through other means. Rather, the body supplies hydration to the areas that need it first. To keep your vocal folds operating smoothly, it’s important to hydrate consistently and constantly – it does not help if you only drink water just before you need to sing or speak publicly. (Alcohol and caffeine are especially drying to the voice.)
Good hydration makes the mucous that covers the vocal folds thin and slippery so that they can move against each other easily and vibrate smoothly. Think of it like the motor oil to the engine of your car: if it’s thick and gunky, you’re headed for trouble!
Contrary to the belief of many singers, dairy products do not produce phlegm (unless you have a specific medical condition). It’s the high fat content in dairy products that thickens the mucous that is already present in a person’s airway making it seem like there is more phlegm.
Cold and allergy medications can be drying to the body, and if they contain menthol and eucalyptus, it can be even more drying to the mucous membranes of the mouth and throat. Many vocalists report having good success with glycerin-based lozenges.
Using Proper Vocal Technique
It goes without saying that shouting, yelling, partying (and any other loud activities) can wreak havoc on your vocal folds. Always use your voice efficiently with proper breath support. If you feel yourself losing your voice, try to avoid harsh whispering, which can put excess pressure on your vocal folds. For some people, whispering can be more traumatic to the larynx than normal speaking.
Inhaling or breathing steam helps the laryngeal area stay moist and can be very soothing to irritated vocal folds. Breathe the steam through your nose for three to five minutes, two to three times per day; you can also try breathing shower steam or a personal steamer. If you use a humidifier, be sure to follow the cleaning instructions on the package; if you don’t keep it clean, germs can get into the air you breathe.
Your voice is one of the most noticeable things about you and people immediately make assessments when you begin speaking. Treat your voice like the precious – and priceless – instrument that it is. And be sure to visit your doctor if any vocal issues fail to resolve in a short amount of time.
– Kaarin Record Leach