I recently had several students come to me who I suspected might have vocal nodules. With fall allergies on the rise and flu season around the corner, I thought now would be a good time to revisit some thoughts on keeping the voice healthy.
vocal health tips
• Drink plenty of water. Aim for 64 ounces (or eight 8-ounce glasses) daily. Caffeinated beverages do not count towards this total, but the following beverages do: juice; decaffeinated coffee, soda, and tea; herbal tea; and milk.
• Get 7-8 hours of sleep each night. We tend to fall back on bad habits when we’re tired. Getting enough rest will keep your body energized so that it can properly support your voice.
• Practice nasal irrigation: use saline drops or a neti pot. This is especially important if you are prone to allergies or sinus infections.
• Avoid speaking over background noise. We easily learn to “tune out” background noise, but speaking over other sounds can fatigue the voice. Common examples of background noise include talking at parties or restaurants and traveling by car.
• Maintain proper humidity. If the humidity levels in your home or office fall below 40 percent, consider using a humidifier, especially at night. (It is important to use a humidifier that can easily be cleaned, as the bacteria build-up can make you sick.)
• Practice healthy and efficient speaking habits.
• Avoid clearing your throat.
• Get acid reflux treated. Stomach acid can literally burn the vocal cords. See a doctor if you experience reflux several times a week.
• Rest your voice when it feels fatigued. Listen to your body. Warm up your voice before speaking extensively or before singing.
• Avoid excessive use of Aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (Advil, Ibuprofin, Motrin, Anaprox, Naproxin, etc.)
• Practice relaxation techniques if you tend to experience physical tension. Examples include meditation, yoga, visualization, and hypnosis.
• Keep your body strong and flexible and maintain optimal posture. There are many physical disciplines that can help: yoga, Pilates, tai chi, Alexander technique, dance, etc.)
• Seek medical attention. See a doctor if you are experiencing vocal problems and are not otherwise ill. (Read more information on the reverse page.)
vocal health resources
when to see a voice doctor
Vocal problems can develop at any time, but they most often occur following an illness or after times of extended voice use. However, the voice generally recovers on its own within a week or two. See doctor if you are experiencing the following symptoms and are not otherwise ill:
• change in vocal quality, such as hoarsness, breathiness, vocal fatigue, loss of volume, or decreased vocal range (high or low)
• throat pain or discomfort
• recurring voice loss (full or partial)
finding a voice doctor
Look for a doctor with experience working with “professional voice users.” Other specialists - even ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctors - may not fully understand voice use or vocal problems common to people who speak or sing frequently. If you’re looking for a voice doctor, or are curious about problems related to the voice, I highly recommend www.voiceproblem.org.
voice doctors in the Philadelphia region
These two highly-experienced teams of ENTs and speech therapists specialize in treating professional voice users.
Joseph Spiegel • Thomas Jefferson University
925 Chestnut Street, 6th floor • Philadelphia, PA 19107 • 215-955-6760
Philadelphia Ear, Nose and Throat Associates
www.phillyent.com • 219 N Broad St, 10th Fl • Philadelphia PA 19107 • 215-762-5531
CHOP operates a world-class voice clinic for children. The staff is sensitive to the needs of children who perform at avocational and professional levels.
Children's Hospital of Philadelphia - Voice Clinic
www.chop.edu • 215-590-1000 • 34th Street and Civic Center Boulevard • Philadelphia, PA 19104
This large group practice treats a broad range of ENT issues, including voice problems of children and adults.
Ear, Nose and Throat Associates of Chester County
www.entacc.com • 610-363-2532 • offices in Exton, Coatesville, West Chester, and Kennet Square
A voice doctor may recommend that you work with a speech and language therapist (SLP) as part of your recovery. Like ENTs, SLPs often specialize in various areas of their field. You will want an SLP who specializes in voice. If you are a singer, you may need a singing (or voice) teacher. Look for someone who has experience with injured voices and who teaches the vocal style you wish to sing.
Download this handout as a PDF.
Disclaimer: This blog post does not constitute medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment, or services. It simply provides general information for educational purposes only. This information is not a substitute for medical or professional care, and you should not consider it a substitute for a consultation with a physician or other healthcare provider.