It’s football season! Everyone is excited for fall weather, tailgates and cheering for our favorite teams. But when our team is not doing well, or we disagree with a call made by the referees, passionate cheering may involve yelling and screaming.
As eager fans push the limits of their vocal chords, many may struggle with voice change, or hoarseness, after straining their voices at athletic events. This is a great time of year to address issues with voice overuse and misuse and learn how we can protect our vocal cords from long-term damage.
We don’t fully appreciate how important our voice is until we lose it. Taking better care of our voices will prevent loss of productivity at work due to hoarseness, provide improved communication with family, friends, and colleagues, and reduce the risk of voice injury that may require voice rehabilitation, or even surgery, to correct.
The vocal cords, also referred to as vocal folds, are paired muscular structures shaped like a “v” that sit on top of our airway at the base of our throat. When we talk, yell, sing, etc., we close the vocal folds and push air up through them to vibrate and make sound. The vocal folds typically vibrate 100 to 200 times a second!
Just like other parts of the body, humans vary as to how well we tolerate vocal fold trauma from too frequent or intense vibrations. Subsequently, the body attempts to protect itself and swells at points of contact on the vocal folds, which builds up a cushion of protection against the trauma. Some people only develop swollen vocal folds causing that deep, husky voice that lasts a day or two. Others build up calluses, or nodules, from years of overuse and misuse, and can struggle with frequent voice change after an episode of increased voice use or illness. In some instances, traumatic voice use results in the rupture of a blood vessel causing a vocal fold hemorrhage (bleeding into the vocal fold) or the creation of a hemorrhagic polyp (blood filled blister). These injuries to the vocal folds can cause long term hoarseness.
As we cheer for our favorite teams this season, think about our voices while watching those players tackle each other over and over again. We are similarly causing our vocal folds to suffer collision after collision at high amplitudes when we cheer (or scream) for our teams. The football players, however, have the advantage of protective padding. Here are a few ways we can protect our vocal folds from traumatic injury:
- Drink lots of water. Adequate hydration gives a nice protective layer of lubrication (or mucus) to the vocal folds. Limit alcohol and caffeine which both cause dehydration. Make sure to drink plenty of water before, during and after the game.
- Ease into your team spirit. Most professional singers warm up prior to a performance, but we don’t typically do vocal exercises before the big game. Keep in mind that vocal folds need a chance to warm up. Start with some easy voicing and avoid screaming the first play of the game.
- Know when to stop. Avoid screaming and yelling once noticing that the voice is changing. Rest the voice if it hurts or sounds bad. If hoarseness occurs frequently after going to games, talking at parties or being in loud environments, pay attention. Give it a rest.
- No Smoking. In addition to being a risk factor in causing laryngeal cancer, smoking causes irritation to the vocal folds. Smoking, drinking and screaming for our favorite teams is a recipe for a vocal disaster.
- See a doctor. Have vocal folds checked out by a Laryngologist, an ear nose and throat doctor who specializes in care of the voice, to make sure there are no long-term or chronic injuries. Voice therapy and rehabilitation can help many voice issues, as well as surgical treatment for those who need it.