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  • Writer's pictureTallulah Breslin, MS, CCC-SLP

Brrr- How to Protect Your Voice as the Seasons Change

Tips to remember:

Warm up your voice

Warming up your voice helps it be ready to use, like an athlete stretching before they compete. It's especially important to warm up your voice before you speak outdoors. Bonus- I've also noticed clients who warm up their voice are more likely to maintain their goal voice recipe!

Follow along with my vocal warm up here!

Breathe in through your noise, not your mouth

How you breathe, especially when outside in dry, cold winter air, can impact your voice.

Try to breathe in through your nose instead of in through your mouth. This way of breathing will humidify the air, allowing it to "warm up" and become hydrated before reaching your larynx, respiratory tracts, and lungs. You will also filter out more germs and allergens breathing in through your nose than through your mouth.

Take care of your indoor air quality

Germs and allergens can also be a concern indoors.

  • Make sure your heating vents, radiators, and air filters are cleaned or replaced regularly to prevent a buildup of dust or allergens within your breathing atmosphere.

  • If you've been doing any work on your home indoors, open the windows to offgas any pollutants.

Avoid Painful Voice Habits

Using your voice should be comfortable. If you're finding it hard to talk, try changing how you speak. A speech-language pathologist can evaluate your voice to see what is causing the discomfort, and recommend easy way of speaking so you can comfortably and confidently communicate.

Avoid Irritating Vocal Behaviors

  • Whispering

Often, whispering can be harder on your voice than using a normal volume in a gentle way. If your voice hurts, rest your voice the same way you would rest your leg of you hurt it. Stay hydrated, get enough sleep, and use a humidifier for a speedier recovery.

  • Throat clearing and habitual coughing

We often clear our throat when we feel like there is mucus in our throat, or if our throat is irritated. But we actually always have mucus running down the back of our throat and onto our vocal folds- we just only notice it when it gets too thick. Coughing and throat clears can traumatize the vocal fold cover and cause it to swell through friction and increased pressure. Our body reacts by making our mucus thicker to protect our vocal folds and throat, which makes the mucus even easier to feel. This new feeling can cause you to start clearing your throat more, causing or perpetuating a voice disorder. Replacing the habit of throat clearing or coughing with taking a sip of water, a hard swallow, or swift, open fricative sounds, like an /s/ or /h/, can help you to reduce the risk of vocal fold swelling. It takes awhile to change a habit, so stick with it!

If your coughs and throat clears are unproductive, they may be caused by tension. This is, unfortunately, not uncommon when learning to change your voice gender. A vocally specialized speech-language pathologist can teach you easier ways to clear your throat that don't irritate or strain your voice.

Stay hydrated!

Hydration is important to healthy voicing, and it can be harder to keep the voice hydrated in dry winter air. Things that can help with vocal hydration:

  • Drink water.

  • Humidification, such as sleeping or working next to a humidifier

  • Steam

  • Ultrasonic nebulizers with 0.9% isotonic saline solutions can hydrate and sooth your voice. The vocal mist nebulizer in particular is highly recommended by singers.

  • Drink warm, non-caffeinated liquids as they can feel soothing and relaxing to your voice.

Be aware if medications are drying out your voice

Some commonly prescribed medications may have drying effects:

  • Antihistamines

  • Decongestants

  • Nasal sprays

  • Inhalers

  • Menthol cough drops

When you have a painful sore throat, it can be tempting to use cough drops to numb the injury, so that you don't feel the pain. The problem is, while your throat is still sore, you don't feel it. You're therefore more likely to do further damage to your voice by speaking as if you're not injured. Additionally, menthol is a dehydrating vocal irritant, which is not what you want when you're trying to heal your voice. Large amounts of menthol can lead to further damage or strain on your voice.

If you need throat lozenges or cough drops, choose ones that don't contain menthol. Some cough drops have pectin as the active ingredient, which is not a vocal irritant. Normal candy containing glycerin can also coat your throat as well as any cough drop.

Manage any Reflux

If you have uncontrolled acid reflux or heartburn, you might notice it acts up more when dry winter air is irritating your throat.

Reflux medication can temporarily reduce how much acid your stomach produces, but most of reflux management is through changing behaviors.

I've heard mixed opinions from different laryngologists about how likely it is for a voice problem to be caused by reflux- but every one has agreed managing reflux is a good idea!

  • Avoid foods that exacerbate your reflux. These vary by person, but common foods that may irritate are bread, fried food, fast food, milk and other dairy, acidic foods like tomatoes and citrus, spicy foods, and fatty meat. Test different foods out, and avoid or limit those that cause you problems.

  • Eat sitting up, and stay upright for at least half an hour after eating.

  • Sleep on your left side, instead of your right.

  • Sleep with your head of bed slightly elevated.

Build Immunity

Protect yourself from getting sick, as many sicknesses negatively effect the voice. Wearing masks and filtering air helps decrease the risk of contracting an airborne virus. Washing your hands before touching your face, eating, or drinking can also help keep you healthy. Disinfecting surfaces can also kill germs. Some vitamins taken at the right time may help. And, if possible, avoid being around others who are sick, especially when they're contagious.

- Tallulah Breslin, MS, CCC/SLP (she/they) Gender Affirming Voice Training Love your voice

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