It may not be entirely intuitive that being stressed would have a significant negative effect on one’s voice. However, stress often leads to excess muscle tension in the neck and shoulders, which can understandably impact the quality of the voice. Relaxation and stress management techniques such as meditation or deep breathing exercises can significantly reduce that detrimental excess tension, allowing the voice to function as it should.
Because of the importance that maintaining proper hydration has on the function of the voice, it stands to reason that ingesting any substance that would interfere with that hydration must be carefully monitored. Caffeine, alcohol, and certain medications are all substances that negatively impact an individual’s hydration. While recent studies are indicating that the dehydrating effects of caffeine may not be quite as potent as previously thought, whenever it or any other substance with any dehydrating effect is ingested, the amount of water ingested should be adjusted to compensate. A good rule of thumb is to drink an extra glass of water for every cup of coffee or shot of alcohol (or glass of wine or beer). Again, in order for the hydration (or rehydration) to occur in such a time as to be beneficial to a period of heavy voice use, the extra water must be consumed at least a few hours beforehand.
When a foreign substance (e.g. food or mucous) comes in contact with the tissues of the larynx, the normal response of the body is to expel the substance by coughing or clearing your throat. While avoiding the aspiration of those substances into the lungs is certainly important, excessive coughing or clearing of the throat can cause irritation and inflammation of the vocal folds and surrounding laryngeal tissues. To avoid causing such irritation and inflammation, it is best to minimize coughing or clearing the throat whenever possible. Many times, sipping water, swallowing, or sucking on a throat lozenge will reduce the urge to cough or clear the throat. If the urge persists, a “baby cough” may provide just enough impetus to expel the offending substance while causing minimal irritation to the vocal folds.
GERD occurs when a muscle at the top of the esophagus either fails to close properly or spasmodically opens for some period of time. This muscle malfunction sometimes allows fluids from the stomach to flow back up and out of the esophagus and spill into the larynx causing a condition called Laryngo-Pharyngeal Reflux (LPR). Usually an episode of reflux occurs when the individual is lying flat or after having eaten a big meal or spicy foods. The acidic stomach fluids leaking into the larynx will cause inflammation and irritation, but the discomfort and acidic taste will often be gone by the time the voice is used, leaving the individual to wonder why his or her voice is hoarse and breathy. If one experiences long-lasting hoarseness or weakness in tone, an ENT should be consulted. A visual examination of the larynx should indicate whether GERD or another voice disorder is to blame.
*note* - Even in the absence of heartburn and/or sour taste, silent reflux may be present. Symptoms include frequent throat clearing, coughing, hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, and the sensation of something stuck in the throat.
Inhaling smoke carries hot, carcinogenic particles through the mouth, throat, and larynx and into the lungs. As those particulates pass through, many become embedded in the delicate and vulnerable tissues of the voice. It does not take much imagination to envision how much irritation those particles could cause. Additionally, smoking is the leading cause of laryngeal cancer. Individuals who regularly rely on the use of their voice must strongly consider quitting smoking in order to protect the sensitive organs responsible for producing that voice.