Celebrate World Voice Day on April 16 by vowing to give your vocal cords some TLC.
How often do you pay attention to your voice? Chances are you don’t give it a second thought – until you start to lose it. When you find it difficult clearly and audibly, life becomes very tricky, particularly if you need to talk a lot on the phone for work, or address large groups of people.So what’s stopping us from being heard? Viral infections, such as colds and ’flu, are among the most well-known culprits – but they’re far from alone. ‘Most voice problems occur due to overuse or misuse,’ explains speech and language therapist Jane Thornton. ‘For the voice to work effectively, the vocal cords need to be relaxed and wet. But people can have bad habits. If you’re under stress or overusing your voice without stopping to take a breath – something that affects fitness instructors and teachers in particular – the laryngeal muscles automatically tighten, and speech becomes more of a strain.’Acid reflux is another common cause. ‘More than half the population suffers from reflux,’ says Thornton. ‘But in many cases, it’s laryngopharyngeal reflux – or “silent reflux” – which has fewer obvious symptoms. There’s no heartburn or nausea, but you may feel hoarse and a constant need to clear your throat.’The good news, however, is that your voice is very resilient. And there’s plenty you can do to both limit the damage and prevent it from occurring in the first place.
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+ HAVE A GOOD YAWN
Yawning helps create more space in your throat and relaxes the laryngeal muscles.‘Try a few big yawns with deep breaths,’ suggests Thornton. ‘Try it after a resistance workout as your larynx will have tightened along with your other muscles. Stretch out your neck too.’
+ GO EASY ON CURRY
Spicy food is one of the most common causes of reflux,’ says Thornton. ‘Get toto speak know your own triggers: notice what kinds of food irritate your throat. And give your stomach time to digest your food before you exercise. ’
+ HAVE A MASSAGE
Laryngeal massage is a specialist therapy that involves digitally manipulating the larynx into a lower position.Find a physiotherapist (csp.org.uk) or an osteopath (osteopathy.org) that specialises in it.
+ TURN OFF HEATING
Central heating dries the air, which in turn dries out the vocal cords. So try layering up instead. Or keep the air moist by placing bowls of water by radiators. You could also invest in a humidifier, such as the Medisana Ultrabreeze (£64.95; boots.com).
+ STAY HYDRATED
‘To keep your vocal cords moist, drink little and often to ensure every breath you take has the right amount of moisture in it,’ says Thornton. Also, cut down on alcohol and caffeinated drinks: try herbal teas.’
+ INHALE STEAM
Breathe in through your mouth over a bowl of steaming water twice daily to moisten and relax your vocal cords. If it makes you cough, move your head further away from the steam.
+ USE YOUR LEGS, NOT YOUR MOUTH
Why put unnecessary strain on your vocal cords? Rather than shouting to someone at the other end of the house, go and speak to them instead.
+ REDUCE NOISE
There’s no point in competing with loud music or the washing machine. Turn it off or go into another room – and keep the chat to a minimum in the gym. Avoid busy places when you’re meeting up with friends- particularly those with high ceilings, background music or coffee machines.
+ RATION PHONE CALLS
You’ll give your vocal cords an easier ride- and get your point across more effectively- if you use Skype or FaceTime instead of simply calling someone because your body language and eye contact will come into play as well.
+ COUGH GENTLY
A heavy cough can irritate the vocal folds, so don’t force a cough. And if you feel the need to clear your throat before speaking, try drinking some water and swallowing any excess saliva instead.
For more voice tips, see voicecare.org.uk. Get involved with World Voice Day at 2017. world-voice-day.org.