Whether cheering on your favorite sports team or shouting to be heard at a concert, pushing the limits of your voice can not only make you hoarse, but it could also potentially lead to something worse.
We explain the ins and outs of why and how you should care for your voice.
Your voice is vital
We don’t fully appreciate how important our voice is until we lose it.
Everyone can get a temporary case of hoarseness and almost 20% of the population has some degree of voice dysfunction. Taking better care of your voices can help prevent a loss of productivity, lessen communication difficulties at work and in social situations, and reduce the risk of voice injury, voice rehabilitation or even surgery.
Age-related voice problems, such as voice weakness, pitch breaks or lower volume, can affect you socially and emotionally, possibly even leading to isolation and depression.
How our vocal cords work
Our vocal cords, also called vocal folds, are positioned opposite each other inside the larynx (voice box) on top of your airway (the trachea). As air from your lungs passes through these vibrating bands of muscle tissue, it creates the sound you hear when you talk, yell or sing. The vocal folds typically vibrate 100 to 200 times a second!
Overuse or excessive strain can irritate and inflame the vocal cords. 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:
- Blood vessel rupture, causing a vocal fold hemorrhage (bleeding into the vocal fold)
- A hemorrhagic polyp (blood-filled blister)
These injuries to the vocal folds can cause long-term hoarseness.
Tips to protect your voice
Here are a few ways you can protect your vocal folds from traumatic injury.
Adequate hydration provides an excellent protective layer of lubrication (or mucus) to the vocal folds. Make sure to drink plenty of water before, during and after a big event. Limit alcohol and caffeine, which causes dehydration.
Ease into your team spirit
Most professional singers warm-up before 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. Ease into expressing yourself instead of shouting out on the game’s first play.
Know when to stop
Give your voice a rest if you’re tired or notice it hurts or sounds different. Pay attention if hoarseness frequently occurs after attending a game, talking at parties or being in loud environments.
In addition to being a risk factor in causing laryngeal cancer, smoking irritates the vocal folds. Smoking, drinking and screaming for our favorite teams is a recipe for a vocal disaster.
See a doctor
Almost everyone has experienced hoarseness from an upper respiratory infection or slight overuse. Most voice changes resolve on their own, but if you experience hoarseness that persists longer than two weeks, you should consult a doctor about the health of your vocal cords.
A laryngologist is an ear, nose and throat doctor specializing in treating the voice’s illnesses and injuries. Voice therapy and rehabilitation can help many voice issues and surgical treatment for those who need it.
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.