There’s one part of your body you likely don’t think about often, even though you use it every day — your voice.
As the saying goes, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.
It’s easy to take our vocal cords for granted, but if you’ve ever “lost your voice,” you know how difficult life would be without them. We use our voices to converse with others, to laugh and cry, to sing in the car, to cheer on our favorite sports teams, to lead important business meetings or debate our stance on societal issues.
It’s hard to imagine going a day — or even just an hour — without using our voices.
While vocal health might only seem important for professional voice users like singers and actors, we all use our voices, probably even more than we realize. As a laryngologist, or a doctor who specializes in voice, airway and swallowing disorders, I’m here to share my advice for how you can help keep your vocal cords healthy.
1. Stay hydrated
One of the best things you can do to take care of your vocal cords is drink plenty of water. Our bodies need water to make healthy mucus to hydrate the vocal cords and our vocal cords need watery, thin mucus to vibrate efficiently.
2. Avoid caffeine, alcohol and other drying agents
Caffeine and alcohol are diuretics, which means they’re dehydrating. So, while you might think you’re getting hydrated by drinking these liquids, they actually dry out your vocal cords. Also, be mindful of the medications you take. Many medications are drying agents and we need to increase our water intake to compensate.
3. Don’t smoke
Not only does smoking dry out the larynx, it’s also dangerous because of the heat effects and increased risk of cancer.
4. Conserve your voice
We all have to communicate, so using your voice is inevitable. But you should monitor how much you’re using it and remember to take breaks to give your vocal folds a rest. If you work in a profession that requires you to use your voice for long periods of time, such as a teacher, lawyer or preacher, consult with a laryngologist for tips on how to use your voice effectively.
5. Don’t try to talk over crowd noise
Be mindful of when you’re around lots of noise or in a large crowd. Only raise your voice when you have to. This goes without saying, but too much screaming and shouting can cause traumatic injury to your vocal folds.
6. Warm up and cool down
If you know you’re going to be using your voice for a long period of time, make time for a quick warm up and cool down beforehand. I recommend you try humming, lip trips and tongue trills. These exercises gently vibrate the vocal cords together and help them relax, so they don’t have to strain when you use them.
7. See a doctor if hoarseness persists
Almost everyone has experienced hoarseness from an upper respiratory infection or slight overuse. This type of hoarseness is typically temporary and nothing to worry about, but if you experience hoarseness that persists longer than two weeks, you should consult with a physician about the health of your vocal cords. Conditions such as vocal cord cancer, infections, muscle tension disorders and traumatic injuries could require medical treatment, surgery or rehabilitation with a voice speech language pathologist.
Interested in meeting with a physician about the health of your vocal cords? Learn more about Baylor Scott & White The Voice Center.
About the author
Lindsey Arviso, MD, is a laryngologist on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White The Voice Center. She has professional expertise in disorders of the voice, including surgical and rehabilitative voice needs. She has particular interest in treatment of vocal fold paralysis, benign and malignant vocal fold lesions, chronic cough and neurologic voice disorders. Dr. Arviso specializes in voice care for singers and other professional voice users. She is married with three children and enjoys traveling, Pilates and spending time with family and friends.