Mikee Larrazabal 10 min read

Vocal Hygiene: Why you need to start caring for your voice now

Your voice is one of your most important tools, both professionally and personally. It is one of the characteristics of speech unique to human beings. Most especially for teachers, call center agents, and other people who use their voice for a living, it is important to take care of your voice to lessen the chances of developing a functional voice disorder that can cause  problems with your livelihood. Here, we will be talking about vocal hygiene and why you need to start taking care of your voice now.

What is Vocal Hygiene?

Vocal hygiene is the term to describe the practices and habits that help keep your voice healthy. Just like brushing your teeth every day to maintain oral hygiene, you need to do certain things to take care of your voice as well.

Simply put, vocal hygiene refers to the practice of taking care of your voice and minimizing strain on it. This includes avoiding smoking and other harmful substances, staying hydrated, practicing proper breathing techniques, and more.

8 Ways to Maintain Vocal Hygiene

For people who use their voice for a living, it is important to take extra care of your vocal cords. Here are eight tips on how you can practice vocal hygiene:

1. Avoid smoking and other harmful substances

Smoking is one of the worst things you can do for your vocal health. It dries out your vocal cords, irritates them, and increases your risk for developing cancer. If you smoke, quitting is the best thing you can do for your voice.

In addition to smoking, avoid exposure to secondhand smoke as well as other harmful substances like dust, fumes, and chemicals. These may irritate your vocal cords and lead to problems.

2. Stay hydrated

Drinking plenty of fluids is important for maintaining vocal health. When you’re well-hydrated, your vocal cords are less likely to become dry.

Aim to drink eight glasses of water per day. You can also drink other fluids like herbal tea, fruit juice, and sports drinks. Just avoid caffeine and alcohol, which can dehydrate you.

3. Practice proper breathing techniques

Proper breathing is essential for maintaining vocal health. When you breathe from your stomach, rather than your chest, you use your diaphragm more effectively. This helps to prevent strain on your vocal cords.

To practice proper breathing, place one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest. Take a deep breath in through your nose, allowing your stomach  to expand. Then, exhale slowly through your mouth.

4. Get enough rest

When you’re tired, your voice can sound raspy and strained. Getting enough sleep will help you avoid this. Most adults need seven to eight hours of sleep per night.

Vocal Hygiene

5. Avoid clearing your throat

Clearing your throat can irritate your vocal cords and lead to problems like laryngitis. If you feel the need to clear your throat, try coughing instead or sipping water to lessen  the tickle in your throat. Exercises for voice therapy such as  lip trills, glottal fry,  and hums  are also beneficial and important to do daily to lessen  strain on your vocal cords.

6. Take breaks between speaking

If you use your voice a lot during the day, be sure to take breaks between speaking. This will give your vocal cords a chance to rest and avoid strain.

7. Avoid yelling or screaming

Yelling and screaming can put a lot of strain on your vocal cords and lead to problems like hoarseness and laryngitis. If you need to raise your voice, try to do so from your stomach instead of your throat.

8. See a doctor if you have vocal problems

If you’re experiencing any vocal problems like hoarseness, throat pain, or difficulty speaking, it’s important to see a doctor. These could be signs of a more serious problem like laryngitis or vocal cord polyps.

By following these tips,  you can help keep your voice healthy and avoid problems. Remember to see a doctor if you’re experiencing any vocal difficulties.

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Why is Vocal Hygiene Important?

As mentioned earlier, taking care of your voice is important to maintain good vocal hygiene. It can also help improve your overall vocal health, making you sound better and reducing the risk of developing functional voice disorders.

Poor Vocal Hygiene can lead to Functional Voice Disorders.

One patient came to the doctor complaining about her voice. The woman, we’ll call her Sarah, is a singer and has been losing her voice for the past few weeks. She was also having trouble hitting high notes and her throat felt sore all the time.

The doctor diagnosed Sarah with a functional voice disorder caused by poor vocal hygiene.  Sarah wasn’t taking care of her voice and as a result, she developed problems.

What are functional voice disorders?

Vocal Therapy

A functional voice disorder (FVD) is any disorder that affects the way you use your voice. This can include things like how loud you speak, the pitch of your voice, and how long you can speak without resting.

FVD is different from an organic voice disorder, which is caused by a physical problem with your vocal cords. Functional voice disorders are usually caused by bad habits or improper use of the voice. This can include things like yelling, screaming, singing too much, talking too much, or smoking.

How to Know if You Have a Functional Voice Disorder

If you think you may have a functional voice disorder, there are some things you can do to find out for sure. The best way to know for sure is to see a speech therapist or ENT doctor.

They will be able to evaluate your voice and determine if you have a functional voice disorder. They may also recommend other tests, such as a laryngoscopy, to rule out other conditions.

In the meantime, there are some things you can do at home to help you figure out if you have a functional voice disorder. Common symptoms of FVD include:

  • Hoarseness or a harsh, raspy, or strained voice
  • Fatigue or a feeling of tiredness in the throat after using your voice
  • Pain or throat pain or discomfort when using your voice
  • Breathing difficulties or shortness of breath or rapid breathing

Examples of Functional Voice Disorders

  • Vocal cord nodules: These are growths on the vocal cords. It may be a result of yelling, screaming, or other improper use of the voice. This results in the voice being hoarse.
  • Vocal cord polyps: These are growths on the vocal cords. It may be a result of extensive smoking, drinking alcohol, or exposure to irritants like dust or fumes. This results in the voice being hoarse or raspy.
  • Vocal Fold Thickening:  This is a condition that can be caused by GERD or other stomach problems. It may be a result of too much talking, singing, or smoking.
  • Reinke’s edema: This is a condition that can be caused by dehydration, smoking, or drinking alcohol. It may be a result of menopause or certain medications. Someone with Reinke’s edema  will have a hoarse voice.
  • Diplophonia:  This is also called double voice. A person with diplophonia  speaks in two pitches at the same time. This can be caused by vocal cord damage or paralysis.
Voice Therapy Exercises

These are different  types of functional voice disorders. Each one has different symptoms and causes. A speech therapist can help you identify which disorder you have and create a treatment plan. They will be giving you  exercises for voice therapy to help you improve your voice.

Seeking help as soon as possible may decrease the chances of developing other vocal disorders and enable early intervention which has been shown to be effective in treating such disorders.

Who is at risk  in developing functional voice disorders?

Anyone can develop a functional voice disorder. However, there are certain factors that may increase your risk. This includes a job or hobby that requires you to use your voice a lot, such as teaching, singing, or acting. Priests, lawyers, and other professionals who have to talk a lot are also at risk.

There are some cases where functional voice disorder turned into organic voice disorder, which is  a permanent condition. That’s why it’s important to see a doctor if you think you have a functional voice disorder and reevaluate your vocal hygiene habits.

Treatment for Functional Voice Disorders

Exercises for Voice Therapy

The first step in treating a functional voice disorder is to identify the cause of the problem through a hearing test, acoustic analysis, or other diagnostic tools. Once the cause is found, a treatment plan will be created.

Treatment for FVD usually includes some combination of voice therapy exercises, lifestyle changes, and medical treatment.

Voice therapy is the most common treatment for FVD.

It helps you learn how to use your voice properly to avoid strain and injury. Voice therapy may include things like voice therapy exercises and relaxation techniques.

Some voice therapy exercises include: 

  1. The straw exercise: This is an easy vocal therapy exercise that you can do at home! Sit or stand up straight and take a sip of water through a straw. Swallow the water and then hum for 10 seconds. Repeat this 5 times.
  2. Lip trills: This is another easy vocal therapy exercise that you can do at home by sitting or standing up straight and make a “tr” sound with your lips (like you’re saying the word “true”). Hold the sound for 10 seconds and then release it. Repeat this 5 times.
  3. Tongue trills: This is another easy vocal therapy exercise that you can do at home!Sit or stand up straight and make a “tr” sound with your tongue (like you’re saying the word “train”). Hold the sound for 10 seconds and then release it. Repeat this 5 times.
  4. Humming: This is another easy vocal therapy exercise. All you need to do is sit or stand up straight and hum a scale from low to high (do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do). Repeat this 5 times.
  5. Sirens: This is a vocal therapy exercise that you can do even in the car. Sit or stand up straight and make a siren noise by starting at a low pitch and gradually increasing the pitch until you reach a high pitch. Then gradually decrease the pitch until you reach a low pitch again. Repeat this 5 times.

These exercises for voice therapy can help you learn how to use your voice properly and reduce strain. Relaxation techniques can also help in managing stress and tension.

Lifestyle changes are another important part of treatment for FVD. Some lifestyle changes that may be recommended include:

  • Quit smoking
  • Limit alcohol intake
  • Avoid extended periods of talking
  • Avoid yelling or screaming
  • Use a humidifier
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Eat a healthy diet

Making these lifestyle changes can help reduce strain on the vocal cords and improve symptoms.

In some cases, medical treatment may also be  necessary. Medical treatment for FVD usually involves steroids or other medications to reduce inflammation. Surgery is rarely needed.

If you have voice problems, a speech therapist can help you.

Vocal Hygiene

If you think you have a functional voice disorder, the first step is to see a doctor to  get a diagnosis. Once the cause of the problem is found, a speech therapist can help you get things done! They will be able to diagnose the problem and create a treatment plan that’s right for you and give you exercises for voice therapy. With proper treatment, most people with FVD can improve their symptoms and live normal, healthy lives.

Just like Sarah, many people experience functional voice disorders. The good news is that with proper treatment, such as voice therapy exercises, most people can improve their symptoms and live normal, healthy lives. Sarah was able to improve her vocal health and avoid further damage to her voice. 

Don’t wait to seek treatment for your voice. The sooner you start treatment, the better your chances are of managing your symptoms and living a normal, healthy life. Contact us now for free consultation.