Last updated: 15 June 2011
Consultant laryngologist Tom Harris shares his top tips on maintaining good vocal health. Here are some of the many things you can do to help prevent problems developing in healthy voices.
If you have a throat infection or laryngitis it is best to rest your voice. Do not speak more than you absolutely have to. A day off work when an infection is acute may save you a week off later on, especially if you have a vocally demanding job.
Steam inhalations are very soothing for strained, laryngitic voices. The steam reduces inflammation and irritation very effectively.
Drink plenty of water. Six to eight large glasses of water a day are usually recommended. The mucous that lubricates your vocal folds, nose, throat and chest depends on the water content in the body. If you do not drink enough the laryngeal mucous becomes thick and sticky and may interfere with efficient voicing. Vocal folds that are dry are also more vulnerable to damage with excessive or inefficient voice use.
Efficient voice production is helped by maintaining good posture. Poor posture can distort your neck/back alignment affecting the resonating spaces in the throat and the control of the laryngeal muscles. It can also affect your breathing pattern, reducing your ability to control the breath and putting strain on your voice.
Take regular exercise to maintain a good lung capacity. Try not to speak when you are out of breath or speak for too long on one breath. Air is the fuel for your voice. If you have too little air available your voice can become strained and tired.
Tension in the body tends to generalize and may affect the larynx. Tight tense muscles do not work as efficiently as relaxed muscles and may result in fatigue and discomfort. Jaw, neck and shoulder exercises can help keep the voice relaxed and classes in such things as Yoga, Tai Chi, Pilates or Alexander Technique will help improve your general fitness, lung capacity and posture.
The vocal muscles are like any other muscles in the body; they are less vulnerable to injury and perform better when warmed up before exercise. A useful selection of warm-up exercises can be found on the Voice Care Network website.
It is also important to warm the voice down after voice use, especially after singing or speaking against noise. Noisy environments tend to make us speak louder and higher in pitch. Higher pitches are produced with stretched thinned vocal folds. If the muscles that control pitch are overused, the voice may begin to fatigue more quickly. Exercises that focus on your lower pitch range are likely to relax the pitching mechanism and reduce vocal fatigue.
Tom Harris is a Consultant Laryngologist. He ran the Lewisham Multidisciplinary Voice Clinic, is the Founding Chairman of the Voice Research Society (now the British Voice Association) and opened one of the first Multidisciplinary Voice Clinics in the UK in 1982. Tom has been an Honorary Senior Lecturer for Guy's, King's and St Thomas's Hospital Trust, a Consultant to RADA and a member of the editorial board of The Journal of Voice (USA).