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Taking Care of Your Vocal Cords; How to Avoid Injury

By Daniel, published on 28/09/2019 We Love Prof - AU > Music > Singing > How to Avoid Vocal Cord Injury

“Without music, life would be a mistake.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

If you want to not go hoarse, lose your voice, or avoid inflammation of the larynx or throat, you need to take care of your vocal cords.

Around a quarter of us overuse our voice at work: tourist guides, lawyers, teachers, singers, etc. The majority of teachers have problems with their voice. Women are four times as likely as men to suffer.

When you sing, a benign condition could cost you your voice. 

So what about when you sing? What are the risks of singing on your voice?

While singing isn’t inherently dangerous, like almost everything else, there are risks that you need to manage. In this article, we’re looking at how to take care of your voice, laryngitis, dysphonia, and how lifestyle can affect your voice.

Singing: The Risk of Laryngitis

After a concert or singing lesson, singers often lose some of their voice or suffer irritations in their throat, larynx, or pharynx.

How do you avoid vocal fry? The last thing you want is laryngitis. (Source: darwisalwan)

When singers (or any other person who uses their voice as part of their work) has a bad vocal technique, they can end up breaking their voice or altering the timbre of their voice. This comes from overexerting your voice and results in laryngitis, an inflammation of the vocal cords. This isn’t an illness but rather a condition from vocal fatigue that weakens the voices and makes it harder to correctly vibrate your vocal cords.

Laryngitis can be caused by several factors: a lack of sleep, smoking, diet, stress, overworking, or a bad posture when singing. This can result in reduced pressure from the lungs and reduced intra-glottic pressure, which is necessary to vibrate the vocal cords. It can feel like a veil covering your voice.

While the vocal cords are intact, the singer will need to strain their vocal cords to keep singing, worsening the vocal fatigue which can lead to nodules on the vocal cords.

In certain cases, they may contract chronic laryngitis, persistent inflammation of the vocal cords which can deepen the voice.

If they keep singing, the singer is at risk so they should consider seeing a doctor or ENT specialist. Speech therapy for singers is a good way to recover. Otherwise, they run the risk of dysphonia or end up with a hoarse voice.

It’s quite simple to understand if you think of it in the same way an athlete rests to avoid injury. It can be quite difficult to convince someone who’s a little hoarse to get singing lessons to avoid ruining their voice, though.

Singing: The Risks of Dysphonia

Dysphonia can arise from excessive use of your voice and affects every acoustic aspect of it.

How do you fix vocal fry? A cup of herbal tea is good for your voice. (Source: dungthuyvunguyen)

There are three main ways that dysphonia can affect your voice:

  • Your timbre becomes hoarser, broken, or rougher.
  • Your voice becomes deeper or higher.
  • Your voice becomes week and your voice tires more quickly.

Dysphonia is a risk for any singer since they regularly exert their voice for long periods. It usually occurs following a vocal cord injury, nodules, polyps, cysts, ulcers, vocal flap paralysis, or laryngitis.

After you’ve overexerted your voice, a litre of water isn’t going to cut it; you’ll need to see a speech pathologist. This can often happen to beginners.

Let us explain. Many of us like having a little sing-song in our everyday lives, be it in the car, around the house, with our friends or family, etc., but very few of us are professional singers. While we can imitate a singer, not many of us can perfectly modulate our voices.

Professional singers and singing teachers who’ve been through auditions and training will know what they need to do to avoid irritating their vocal cords.

On the other hand, an amateur singer mightn’t know of the damage they’re doing to their voice when they sing. Without singing lessons, you may strain your voice, resulting in dysphonia.

Similarly, don’t self-medicate. There are natural remedies such as herbal teas, hot water with honey, eucalyptus or liquorice pastels, and essential oils you can use. However, if it lasts longer than a week, see a professional.

Learn about techniques for your voice.

Taking Care of Your Voice Through Lifestyle

We regularly read that diet, avoiding smoking and drinking too much alcohol, and regularly exercising are all great ways to stay healthy. The same is true for keeping your voice healthy.

How do you recover from vocal fry? Even a bad’s night sleep can affect your voice. (Source: Pexels)

Tobacco is bad for your respiratory system and your whole body. It can also lead to inflammation of the vocal cords. If you sing and smoke, you can strain your vocal cords more quickly than a non-smoker.

You also need to hydrate, which means drink at least a litre of water per day to ensure your vocal cords don’t dry out. Dehydration is a quick way to tire the vocal cords.

Singers, regardless of their level, need to take care of their vocal cords:

  • Sleep in a well-ventilated area that’s free of dust.
  • By a humidifier to humidify the air.
  • Avoid shouting.
  • Spend long periods in silence.
  • Wear a scarf.
  • Use honey, lemon, or eucalyptus pastels.
  • Drink lemon juice.

Protecting against variations in temperature is a way to avoid a sore throat (air conditioning in summer) or a sore throat and coughing in winter. It’s a good idea to cover your throat and wear a scarf in the winter months and avoid contracting viral infections such as colds or bronchitis.

Opt for herbal teas over alcoholic beverages and exercise regularly to increase your lung capacity and vocal endurance. Avoid acidic or spicy foods which will reduce acid reflux, which can negatively affect the voice. Similarly, singers should also avoid carbonated drinks.

In addition to the food we eat, you also need to avoid living a hectic life, which can be difficult if you’re a performer. A professional spends long times travelling with little rest: travelling from town to town, recording sessions, makeup and wardrobe, interviews, press conferences, etc., which isn’t great for your voice. Professional singers have to rest their voice whenever they can.

Easier said than done!

Check out our tips for looking after your voice.

Other Vocal Problems for Singers

Resting your voice is a good way to help your voice recover but some issues may last longer. In some cases, you may end up with a severe vocal injury or worse. This can include cancers of the larynx, vocal cords, or throat.

If you’ve been hoarse for over a week, you should consider consulting a speech pathologist or ENT specialist since tumours aren’t necessarily painful. Don’t wait until it’s too late.

In any case, an ENT doctor can take a look at your throat and vocal cords if you’ve been having problems. A speech pathologist can help with your voice, swallowing, and problems with speech. Be it an appraisal, checkup, or surgery in the event of problems, they can help.

Keep in mind that singing isn’t dangerous. You just need to take care of your instrument and lessons can help.

If you want to work on your voice and improve your singing, you might want to consider getting a vocal coach or private tutor on Superprof. They can help you improve your singing, take care of your voice, and provide bespoke singing tuition. There are three main types of tutorials on offer and each one comes with some advantages and disadvantages.

Face-to-face private tutorials are just between you and your tutor. The sessions will be tailored to you, your needs, and your strengths and weaknesses. Of course, since the tutor will be dedicating a lot of time to you and your tutorials as well as tailoring them to your needs, this type of tutorial tends to be the most costly. However, it’s also the most cost-effective.

Thanks to the internet, webcams, and video conferencing software, you can also get online tutorials. Again, these tutorials are just between you and the tutor with the main difference being that you’re not in the same room. With fewer travel expenses and the ability to schedule more tutorials each week, the tutor can charge a more competitive rate for these tutorials.

Finally, there are group tutorials. These are more like your traditional classes with several students and one teacher. The cost of the tutor’s time is shared between all the students in the class so you can expect to pay less per hour for these tutorials. Unfortunately, this means the tutor can’t spend as much time focusing on you and your singing technique.

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