Gayle M. Belin, M.A., CCC-SLP

Speech Language Pathology Services

Professional Biography

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Vocal Hygiene Tips

Cough Relief

Glossary of Terms

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Tips for Vocal Hygiene

Hydrate, Hydrate, HYDRATE: Hydration is essential for the best functioning of the vocal tract. Be sure to drink plenty of healthy fluids throughout the day, though room temperature water is the best. Adequate hydration will lubricate and protect your vocal fold tissues. A good amount of liquid to consume is 6-8 eight-ounce glasses or half your body weight in ounces (e.g., 150 lbs. → 75 oz. of liquid). If you exercise vigorously, you may need to replenish more often. Remember that many coffees, teas, and sodas have caffeine and are diuretics, causing increased frequency of urination. Some medications can also have a drying effect.

Breathing: Make sure you have enough air support for everything you need to say. Try not to speak to the very end of your breath, renewing it more often by pausing, if necessary.

  • Sit and stand with correct posture. A slouched posture may contribute to poor respiratory support which may ultimately result in a weak, ineffective, hoarse voice.

  • Nose breathing is the best. Avoid breathing through your mouth, especially in exceptionally cold weather. Breathing through your nose cleans, warms and moistens the air before it reaches your vocal folds and lungs.

Voice Production:

  • Use an easy approach to voice production. Abrupt hard onsets of voice initiation can be traumatic to the vocal fold tissues.

  • Use voice that is most optimal for you. Using a pitch range level that is either inappropriately high or low can put excess stress on the vocal mechanism. Don't make strange noises with your voice and try not to imitate voices that are abrasive.

  • Avoid using a voice that is too loud. Yelling and screaming, or talking, laughing, or singing louder than you absolutely must can be quite abrasive to the vocal fold tissues and can contribute to swelling and altered voice production. Try not to speak or sing over noise/voices/music at parties, nightclubs, in the car, and around machinery such as a lawnmower. Be aware of "noise inflation" or the Lombard effect. This is the tendency to speak at a loudness level greater than the noise in the environment around you. Avoid talking while using noisy transportation such as buses, trains subways, and riding in autos with the windows open and/or at high speeds. Also, no loud talking when riding a snowmobile, dunebuggy, motorcycle, motorbike, or motorboat.

  • Avoid excess talking. Pay attention to when your throat feels tired. Try not to push it. If you need to talk for extended periods make sure to give it a rest...10 minutes for every 2 hours of talking.

  • Do NOT whisper. Whispering has a drying effect on the mucosa of the vocal folds. It also forces the airstream during expiration and in turn can increase muscular tension and effort somewhere in the vocal mechanism.

  • Use a headset rather than cradling the phone between your shoulder and you ear, if you must be on the telephone for extended periods of time.

Influencing daily habits and behaviors:

  • Cut down and eventually eliminate excessive coughing, habitual throat clearing, or hard sneezing. If necessary, keep a journal of how often you clear your throat to chart frequency, time of day, and throat sensations before and after. This will assist you in making connections between your behaviors and voice health.

  • Thickened mucous may be the result of gastric reflux problems. See your doctor to aid you in its management. Reflux can contribute to and exacerbate voice disturbances.

    • Avoid peppermint candy and mint products. Mint has been shown to relax the lower esophageal sphincter, thus allowing harmful gastric juices to travel up the esophagus to the larynx.

    • Cut down on the consumption of dairy foods. For some people, although not all, these foods create an increased mucous production and an increased need to clear the throat.

  • Get enough rest. When one is fatigued, the natural voice is lower in intensity and sometimes in pitch and tone, contributing to forced voice in order to be heard. Take a moment or two during the day to stop and relax. Stress has a way of compounding throughout the day, affecting posture, how one holds their heads and mouths, and ultimately what kind of voice one produces.

  • Stay healthy. The coughing and sneezing commonly associated with a cold or flu can contribute to edema/swelling in the laryngeal area as well as irritation to the mucosal tissue.

  • DON'T SMOKE ANYTHING!!! The evidence bears out that smoking is directly related to laryngeal cancer. Beyond the direct effects on the vocal folds themselves, smoking can cause respiratory problems which can have a direct effect on voice production.

  • Try to avoid smoky environments. Second hand smoke acts as an irritant to the mucosal lining of the vocal tract and lungs.

  • Avoid excess alcoholic consumption. Alcohol contributes to the drying of mucosal linings of tissues. Also, alcohol makes the stomach produce more acid than usual, which can lead to acid reflux. Alcohol further increases this risk of acid backflow because it also relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), allowing liquid to pass through more easily.

  • Do not use mouthwash, which contains over 25% alcohol as it can be drying to delicate tissues. If you think that you need a mouthwash more than just occasionally, see your dentist for a check-up. Offensive mouth odors can be caused by tooth decay and/or gastric reflux.

When experiencing a vocal disturbance

  • See a physician immediately if you have laryngitis for more than seven days or pain in the throat, jaw, or ear upon speaking, eating, or swallowing for more than one day.

  • Reduce or avoid talking when you have an upper respiratory infection such as a cold. See a physician if the cold persists, especially a chest cold which has persisted for more than seven days.

  • Do not sing, act in plays, or give speeches or oral reports if you have a vocal disturbance or an upper respiratory infection. If you absolutely must speak to a large group, be sure to use voice amplification technology (aka microphone).

  • When experiencing a vocal disturbance, if you must speak to a group, then sit in the corner of the room so that you can be heard easily without talking loudly, and then speak only when others in the room are quiet. If you can obtain amplification of your voice when speaking to groups, it is more desirable than attempting to project your voice without assistance. Also, limit the amount of time speaking under such circumstances.

Sources: Anderson and Newby (1973), Bryce (1974), Cooper (1973,1985), Marge (1983), Fox and Blechman (1975), Punt (1974), Wilson (1977), Prater and Swift (1984), Colton and Casper (1990), Boone (1991), Stemple (2000).