“The human sound requires a lot of action from a very small set of muscles and tissues in your mouth, throat and diaphragm,” says Speech-Language Pathologist, Dawn H. Belte, M.C.D., CCC-SLP, CBIS with the Rehabilitation Center of Thibodaux Regional. One of the most vital areas for your voice are the vocal folds (commonly referred to as vocal cords), which are located in the back of your throat. These folds translate the air that comes from your lungs for humming, singing and speaking by vibrating as we breathe.
Voice production requires many nerves and muscles that are using pressure, elasticity and tension. The vocal folds vibrate hundreds to even thousands of times per second. “A good visual for this is to think of how fast a hummingbird flaps its wings,” says Belte.
How to Care for Your Voice
Avoid vocal irritants like smoking, alcohol consumption (which dehydrates your vocal mechanism) and exposure to chemicals in the environment (household products, dust and others). It is advised to wear a respirator or mask when being exposed to chemicals to protect your vocal folds.
Hydration is extremely important for your vocal folds to function properly. Internal hydration is achieved by drinking a sufficient amount of water. Avoid caffeine because it dehydrates vocal folds. Inhaling the steam from a facial steamer or a hot shower will provide external hydration. Keep in mind that when you travel on a plane, the air is very dry and will dehydrate your vocal mechanism.
Medication side effects may play a role in drying out your vocal folds. Many medications list dry mouth as a side effect. Dry mouth causes dry throat. Antihistamines, decongestants, pain medications and anti-spasm medications often cause dry mouth, as well as many others.
Manage your reflux symptoms. Reflux occurs when the acid from your stomach comes up the esophagus and into your voice box. It can cause inflammation and irritation. Recommendations are to consult with a physician to address acid reflux. It’s important to watch your diet and make any lifestyle changes that may be necessary to improve the condition.
Minimize the frequency of clearing your throat and coughing. Throat clearing causes wear and tear on vocal folds. Clearing the throat frequently causes more mucus to develop in the throat, which in turn causes a person to once again clear the throat. Recommendations would be to discuss the issue with a physician to rule out reflux or sinus issues. “Drinking water in place of clearing the throat is what I recommend to my patients. Even a small sip of water will help,” says Belte.
Many patients are abusing their voices by speaking loudly, talking for long periods of time or not using their voice appropriately, which causes strain. Vocal strain may create vocal nodules.
“If someone is experiencing any issue with their voice that lasts longer than two-three weeks, we recommend having it checked by a physician,” says Belte. “If you have persistent laryngitis, long after your upper respiratory infection or cold has cleared, you should get it checked by a physician.” There are numerous things that may cause voice problems such as tumors, non-cancerous lesions and goiters.
Belte says the Rehabilitation Center of Thibodaux Regional treats patients who have neurological conditions such as stroke, Parkinson’s and ALS. Voice issues may also be a problem for those who have had trauma to their voice such as inhalation of heat and smoke or a traumatic accident. Patients who have had surgery to the throat area and also patients who have been intubated may have issues with their voice as well.
Warning Signs of a Voice Disorder:
Voice worsens during the day
Speaking becomes effortful
Globus, which is an uncomfortable feeling in the throat, a heaviness that doesn’t go away
Singers who can no longer reach the high notes or are unable to hold notes as long as they have in the past
For more information on voice hygiene or any speech related issues, please contact the Outpatient Rehabilitation Center at the Wellness Center of Thibodaux Regional Medical Center at