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Are you doing enough to take care of your voice?
It’s that time of year again when the temperatures go down, windows close up, furnaces get turned on and everyone heads back indoors.
In a way it’s a perfect storm of unhealthiness, an environment built from the ground up to spread illness.
And for folks who use their voice professionally, it’s one of the worst times of year. The combination of everyone getting back to an indoor routine coupled with an acceleration in demand now that everyone’s back from summer vacation often means bad news for voice talent.
For more on how to keep the worst at bay – and what to do if the inevitable happens – read on.

Don’t Ignore The Signs

It’s easy to ignore the symptoms of a compromised voice. But we shouldn’t.
We all know what it feels like – the scratchy throat, the neck discomfort, the blocked or constantly dripping nasal passages – and many of us choose to ignore the symptoms. In this age of accelerated expectations, it’s equally easy to keep working, to keep talking, to keep singing. Because no one has time to get off the treadmill, right?
Wrong. Not taking the time to rest your voice – and the rest of your body, for that matter – when you start to feel sick, weak, or otherwise compromised is the quickest route to more significant and lasting illness. Waiting it out and hoping you recover on your own could very well render you completely unable to function for a longer period of time than would have otherwise been the case.
Misusing or overusing your voice when you’re flying somewhere below complete health is a recipe for disaster. If an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, recognizing the symptoms of a compromised voice early on, and then actually taking action to get better, could help you avoid bigger trouble ahead.
Here’s a quick checklist of things to keep in mind if you start to feel that little tickle in your throat.

1. Listen To Yourself

Vocal fatigue is a very real threat to voice professionals of all stripes. If you routinely speak in a pitch lower than you normally would, you could suffer from chronic hoarseness as a result. Its proper name is Muscle Tension Dysphonia, but it’s more commonly known as Bogart-Bacall Syndrome, as both Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall suffered from it.
Is it fatal? No. But it can significantly affect your ability to use your voice in the course of your professional life, and it could be a sign that this isn’t something you should just shrug off.

2. Don’t Go It Alone

It’s all well and good to fire up the kettle and megadose on Vitamin C if you feel your voice starting to waver. But common household remedies won’t always work, and you’ll need to know when to seek medical care. While this might come with a cost, keep in mind the potential losses if you get sicker and can’t recover anytime soon.
While you’re at your doctor’s office, make sure you’re working as a team to explore all possible options. Don’t feel pressured to go straight for the surgical option. In the wake of the death of Joan Rivers, growing questions around overuse of surgery are prompting voice professionals to take a more holistic, broad-based approach to their care.

3. Get A Referral

It’s one thing to have a consult with your family doctor, and quite another to visit an ENT specialist. Don’t be afraid to ask for a referral if you think whatever ails you extends beyond your GP’s area of expertise. I promise you your doc won’t be offended.

4. Rest Up

Build time into your schedule to give your voice a break. Even if you aren’t feeling sick or otherwise compromised, regular periods of rest will help you avoid getting into trouble in the first place.
It extends beyond talking. In her VOX Daily entry, Vocal Health : Why Rest Is Sometimes The Best Medicine, Voices.com co-founder and CMO Stephanie Ciccarelli says stressful voice behaviours can take on many forms, including yelling, coughing hard, forceful throat clearing, crying, talking on the phone, and screaming.
Turning your voice off completely could be the only way to prevent further deterioration and allow a complete and timely recovery.

5. Get Rid Of Allergens At Home

The combination of sealed windows, recycled, furnace-heated air and kids and family members bringing all sorts of bacteria-laden gifts home from school and the office, respectively, can wreak havoc on even the hardiest immune system.
Even if you don’t necessarily suffer from acute allergies, minimizing the number and degree of triggers in the home can enhance voice health. Have a look at our blog entry, 7 Tips To Reduce Allergens In The Home, for some helpful, healthful ideas.

6. Unblock The Congestion

If you’re feeling plugged up, Susan Eichhorn Young, a Canadian soprano and voice teacher who currently lives in New York City with her husband, Thomas Young, tenor and member of the celebrated trio, Three Mo Tenors, Cook, Dixon and Young, shared a works-every-time recipe with Stephanie.
Start with the following ingredients:
One ginger root
2 lemons
Water
Directions:
1. Fill a bit pot with water and pop it on the stove.
2. Cut up an entire ginger root and 2 lemons (with the rinds included).
4. Bring the mixture to a slow boil; simmer and cover.
5. Let it get mushy.
6. Strain the liquid and drink.

7. Don’t Work Sick

It’s tempting to tough it out. Really, I get it: You don’t want to miss that next big opportunity. You don’t want the job to go to someone else. You don’t want to seem as if you’ve dropped off the face of the planet.
So you keep on working even if your voice is flying low. And you go to that audition, and you get the job. Which, I suppose, is a good thing. Except it really isn’t.
That’s because you got the job with your “sick” voice. Which means when it comes time to actually do the work – say, a few days, weeks or months later – your client expects you to sound like you did when you auditioned. When you were sick.
Next time, before you audition, ask yourself if you sound sick. If so, going for it anyway could come back to haunt you.

8. Ditch The Cigarettes

I’ve worked with more than a few voice-of-God news anchors who are proud of the fact that they smoke. They believe that their habit helped shape their golden vocal chords, and that they wouldn’t be quite as resonant if they grew up smoke-free.
Don’t believe it for a second. In a Q&A with Voices.com, H. Steven Sims, Director, Chicago Institute for Voice Care, said smoking compromises the voice while smoking, and afterward, as well.
“Typically, smoking creates chronic swelling (edema) on the vocal fold and not only does the voice become less clear, it becomes harder to vibrate the vocal folds and higher frequencies, so the pitch becomes lower as well,” he said. “Even one cigarette slows down the movement of mucus across the vocal folds and makes a person more likely to have trouble with phlegm for a few days (not just the time while someone is smoking, but afterwards).”

What’s Your Take?

Vocal health is one of those topics that probably merits its own book, so don’t be surprised if we revisit it as winter approaches. In the meantime, what do you do to keep your voice – and the rest of your body – working as it should? We’d love to hear your suggestions in a comment.
Until then, here’s to great voice health.

Related Links

Vocal Health: Vocal Cords, Our Precious Gift!
Vocal Health : Why Rest Is Sometimes The Best Medicine
Do You Build Time In For Resting Your Voice?
What Happens When You Book Your “Sick” Voice?
Bogart-Bacall Syndrome: A Performer’s Reward For Speaking Too Low
How To Prevent a Cold From Becoming a Really Crappy Cold
Butt Out! Medical Reasons Why Voice Actors Should Not Smoke
©Voices.com/Carmi Levy

8 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks very much for your kind comment, Larry! I’m so pleased we were able to help you stay ahead of the season and keep your voice in top shape. I’ll keep looking for more helpful tips for future entries here, and invite you to share any ideas you come up with along the way.
    All the best,
    Carmi

  2. Timely advice Carmi. I was certainly unaware of Bogart-Bacall Syndrome, but I would question why someone was forcing their voice into a lower register in the first place.
    Whispering is also bad for your vocal folds if done to excess due to turbulent airflow and increased muscle tension.

  3. Hi Gary. So great to e-meet you! I appreciate your reminder re. whispering, as it’s long been misunderstood by pretty much everyone, and they may end up doing more harm than good if they assume whispering is, in fact, less disruptive. That’s a dangerous assumption, for sure, and I’ll so glad you raised it.
    Insofar as forcing one’s voice into a lower register, I suspect it could be to “fit” a particular job or opportunity. I’ve seen it in radio newsrooms, where newscasters try to force their voices into a lower register, sometimes in response to feedback during an air check. As we see here, there’s a long-term cost associated with this.
    All the best,
    Carmi

  4. As VO professionals, we do have to pay close attention to our vocal health, as it is our lifeline to work. Obviously, eating healthy and getting regular exercise is key to good health. And for vocal health, staying hydrated is very important. Drinking water throughout the day, and especially before a session will not only help to flush toxins, but also keep your body and voice in tip top shape. I also have a little Olive Leaf spray I use (by Seagate) to kill bacteria and ward off any signs of a cold before it can take hold. And rest is also key. Good common sense leads you to know what you should avoid and what can benefit.

  5. Thanks very much for this great advice, Debbie. I often pay too little attention to hydration, which I know is a mistake given how unforgiving the typical studio environment can be. I had never heard of Olive Leaf spray, and will certainly look for it before I feel the next tickle.
    Much appreciated!
    Carmi

  6. Hello!
    Great suggestions for keeping your voice healthy. I will try the remedy at the first sign of sickness.
    Thank you,
    Emma Smiley

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