The human voice is an amazing instrument. Not only do we depend upon our voice for communication in the form of speech, but we can produce wide ranges of frequencies and sounds to produce music. Just like any part of the body, the voice can also be subject to different ailments that often lead to hoarseness. The most common cause of a hoarse voice is also known as “laryngitis.” Viruses that make us cough, congested and downright miserable can also lead to inflammation of the vocal cords. Luckily with rest, hydration and a good immune system, we are able to fight off the viruses and eventually our voice returns to normal.
Why does your voice sound funny after cheering on your favorite college football team or screaming at a music festival? Usually this amount of straining on the voice box (larynx) also can cause inflammation, but will go away after a day or so with voice rest. Sometimes, bumps can develop on the vocal cords, almost like calluses develop on our hands after working in the yard too much. In most cases, these bumps, also called nodules, are from straining or overusing the voice and can continue to cause hoarseness for longer than a few weeks. This can be a significant issue for people who need to use their voice for their profession, such as teachers, singers and lawyers. Other types of bumps on the vocal cords that lead to problems with the voice include polyps and cysts. Rarely, cancers of the larynx can develop mostly related to tobacco use.
How do we keep our voice healthy? Here are some tips:
Drink plenty of water. Your vocal cords are made up primarily of water and do not work well if they are dry. Most adults should drink about 8 (8-oz) cups of water a day. This need increases if vocal use increases. Other factors that can lead to dehydration include medications such as anti-histamine allergy medications and diuretics. Patients who are on hemodialysis or have autoimmune disorders that lead to dry throat are also prone. Avoid alcohol and caffeine as they cause the body to lose water.
Don’t smoke. Not only does tobacco greatly increase the risk of throat cancer, the chemicals are irritating to the larynx and cause inflammation that in some cases cannot be reversed. Smoking marijuana and vaping have also shown to cause swelling of the vocal cords.
Avoid screaming or yelling, which is traumatic to your voice. If you need to project your voice for a prolonged period of time, consider using a microphone to amplify your voice. If you are required to scream or yell for production purposes such as stage or filming, find
a speech language pathologist (SLP) who is trained in voice therapy and can teach safe screaming techniques.
Warm up your voice. Just like a runner stretches before a race, so should you before using your voice heavily. Even 5 minutes of vocal exercises prior to use can make a huge difference.
Don’t sing when you are sick. Generally hoarseness is a sign of injury and requires voice rest to improve. If you put more strain on vocal cords that are already problematic, this can lead to permanent voice problems. If your voice remains hoarse for more than a few weeks, call our office and schedule an appointment.