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Let's talk some vocal hygiene

Updated: Apr 15, 2020

Let’s start with the don’t. Many individuals do things that they think will help their voice but in actuality may contribute to the issue at hand. Let's separate the truth from the myths!

Myth 1: Sucking on menthol lozengers will help my voice 

Menthol lozengers are actually drying and irritating to the tissues of the throat and larynx. These lozengers also have a numbing effect, which can just serve as a “bandaid” to the underlying problem and make “pushing” past the problem worse. If you have persistent irritation in your throat it could be from the way you’re speaking, from Laryngeal Pharyngeal Reflux (LPR), laryngeal hypersensitivity or from other causes like allergies. Your otolaryngologist/ENT can help tease this out. Sometimes lozengers can be helpful in preventing frequent throat clearing. If you suck on lozengers make sure they do not have menthol. You also want to avoid anything with mint and eucalyptus. 

Myth 2: Clearing my throat will help me get a clearer sound

You should avoid throat clearing as much as possible. Throat clearing will not help you get a clearer sound and will only cause increased inflammation and irritation in the larynx (it basically slams your vocal folds together). Sometimes you feel the need to throat clear due to mucus sitting on the vocal folds or sometimes simply due to the perception of laryngeal irritation even if there is no mucus there. Try taking a sip of water and swallowing hard (with more effort than usual) and repeat several times until the tickle goes away.  

Myth 3: Drinking tea will help my voice

No liquid will ever touch the vocal folds (we hope!) so it cannot directly soothe your vocal folds or improve your voice quality. Caffeinated tea is dehydrating and can actually have a negative effect on the voice. If there is mucosal irritation in the pharynx (your throat) due to something like laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR) tea (particularly something like “Throat Coat” tea may feel temporarily soothing but it will not directly improve your voice quality and will not resolve any underlying problem. The best thing to do is drink water and "reset" your voice with resonant hums or straw phonation.

Myth 4: When my voice is tired it is best to whisper

Whispering is a "sensory trick" that may temporarily relieve symptoms of Spasmodic Dysphonia or even muscle tension dysphonia. However, whispering can actually put more strain on the vocal folds. When your voice feels tired it is best to either rest your voice if you have been talking a lot or to try some gentle resonant voice techniques taught to you by your voice therapist/speech language pathologist to relieve the strain on your muscles when producing voice. 

Myth 5: Voice therapy can’t cure a neurological voice disorder like Spasmodic Dysphonia, so there is no point to doing it

While voice therapy cannot “cure” Spasmodic Dysphonia or give you back your "old" voice necessarily, it can give you many helpful tools to better manage symptoms. Many individuals have secondary muscle tension dysphonia (MTD) along with SD or vocal tremor, because they work so hard to “push” the voice out, past the strain caused by SD. Voice therapy can decrease the muscle tension and allow for an easier, smoother voice production pattern.

Myth 5: Drinking more water will not have a big effect on the voice

Increasing your hydration can have a positive effect on your voice! No, it will probably not directly minimize your SD symptoms but a well hydrated throat and larynx is key to even begin thinking about adequate vocal functioning. Keep drinking that water! 

Myth 6: If I use more effort to push my voice out others will hear me better

Any attempt to push the voice out or use more effort to speak, will likely result in increased muscle tension in and around the larynx, which leads to a decrease in vocal quality. Use resonant voice, techniques, flow phonation, clear crisp sounds at the front of your lips and tongue. Use of a voice amplifier for loud situations may also be helpful. See this post for tips for speaking in more challenging situations like the phone, or virtual meetings. You can also view Part I and Part II of these webinars to see strategies demonstrated.

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