By Janelle Paul, M.S., CCC-SLP, Supervisor of Specialized Services, Catapult Learning
I am excited to inform you that May is National Better Hearing and Speech Month! As a speech-language pathologist (SLP), I often use this month as an opportunity to provide knowledge and tips about good vocal hygiene and good listening habits. This is particularly beneficial for our teachers who tend to overuse their voices.
Teachers and school staff are especially susceptible to voice disorders due to the nature of our work. What is a voice disorder? According to the American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA), a voice disorder is something that causes abnormal or missing characteristics that would be expected based on the individual’s age and gender. Some common disorders include laryngitis, vocal nodules, and vocal polyps. Voice disorders can affect loudness, pitch, quality, resonance, or duration of speech.
Here are some tips on improving vocal hygiene that may help you avoid problems with your voice.
Staying hydrated is one of the most important ways we can reduce damage to the voice. Staying hydrated reduces “phonatory effort” (i.e., it’s easier to talk!) and increases “vocal endurance” (i.e., talk more and for longer!).
Follow some of these tips to increase your hydration:
- Increase your water intake! I like using a water bottle with measurements printed on the side. It’s a good reminder of how much (or how little) I am drinking throughout the day
- Drink a full glass of water first thing in the morning
- Limit your caffeine and alcohol consumption. For coffee drinkers, try drinking a full glass of water before you have your morning coffee to start your day off with a boost of hydration
- If your throat is feeling particularly dry, try using a humidifier or steam from the shower
2. Potentially Abusive Habits
With some help from ASHA, I’ll be sharing a little about what habits to avoid when speaking because they may be abusive to the vocal folds. Although we can’t always avoid these habits completely, it’s best to be aware that frequent misuse or mistreatment of the voice may have a negative impact.
|HABIT||What Makes It Abusive?||Healthier Alternatives|
|Yelling & Shouting||Increased muscular tension; prolonged and intense vibrations of the vocal folds; If done frequently, yelling can cause soreness/irritation, ulcers, growths, pain/inflammation, and change in vocal quality.|
|Reduce background noise as much as possible, so you don’t need to shout. Use a voice amplifier or microphone if talking in front of large groups. Teachers- Use a quiet signal such as raising your hand to prompt the class to quiet down. Face the class when speaking.|
|Overusing your Voice||Teachers particularly tend to overuse their voice by talking for long periods of time. According to every time we speak, our vocal folds are vibrating at between 100–1000 vibrations per second. This can be tiring, reduce vocal stamina, cause muscle tension, soreness/irritation, and potentially loss of voice.|
|Build periods of vocal rest into your school day. Try relaxation exercises at the end of your day (e.g., slowly tensing and relaxing individual muscle groups, deep breathing, etc.). At the beginning of your day, try some vocal warm-ups by quietly repeating vowel sounds, buzzing your lips, etc.|
|Throat Clearing/ Coughing||When we clear our throat or cough, we are slamming our vocal folds together at a high rate of speed. If you do this constantly, it could cause growths, soreness/irritation, pain/inflammation, or ulcers.||Here are some tips from Dr. Richard Adler, voice specialist/professor:|
Safe cough alternative:
-Inhale through the nose
-Produce a cough that is short in duration
-Cough several durations in sequence
-Approximate the vocal folds about ½ to ¾ of the way
closed; do this slowly
-Avoid harsh coughing
-Use herbal, honey laden lozenges to soothe the
-Drink hot/warm herbal tea preferably with honey but
brown sugar is a safe alternative; avoid white sugars
|Whispering||What? Whispering? Abusive? Yes! Excessive whispering can be quite a harsh manner of speaking and may lead to increased muscular tension and irritation.|
|Have laryngitis? Stop talking! If you whisper, it may slow down the healing process.|
|Smoking/Excessive Drinking||Edie Grace (LiveStrong, 2017) noted that potential effects of smoking include: Laryngeal cancer, growths on the vocal folds, vocal fold edema, irritation, swelling, decreasing lung function, pain, change of voice quality, to name just a few. Even e-cigarettes can still contain potentially harmful and irritating ingredients such as propylene glycol. Excessive alcohol use can also impact vocal function. Drinking and smoking at the same time is particularly harmful.|
|Try these resources for help:|
Quitline Services: Call 1-800-784-8669;
http://Smokefree.gov; American Cancer Society; American Lung Association; Mayo Clinic
|Singing Outside Your Range||Increased muscular tension and strain which could cause soreness, irritation, or change in vocal quality. If you do this frequently, you could develop growths or calluses.|
|Let’s face it, we can’t all be Idina Menzel . . . so although it is fun to attempt singing Frozen’s “Let It Go” in the shower or the car, it may not be best to strain your voice too much trying to reach those high notes. If you are a singer and would like to work on your vocal range, try talking to a voice coach about how to do so safely.|
3. Rest & Relaxation!
Although it may be a foreign concept to many of us, getting enough rest is important for not just our overall physical and mental health, but also for our vocal health.
Here are some ways you can use rest and relaxation to benefit your vocal health:
Build periods of vocal rest into your day. We know that, as teachers, we tend to overuse our voice. Therefore, it’s important for us to work in periods of vocal rest throughout the day. Take some time and give yourself a break from talking during the work day.
Get an adequate amount of sleep at night. Charlotte Eye, Ear, Nose & Throat Associates, P.A. (CEENTA), recommends 7–9 hours of sleep for adults. CEENTA noted several reasons that sleep is important for our vocal health:
- Sleep is restorative for our vocal folds.
- Sleep deprivation can cause vocal fatigue.
- Overusing your voice while also exhausted can be straining and could put you at greater risk for hoarseness, laryngitis, and growths if done frequently.
- Sleepiness might prompt you to consume more caffeine, which we know is dehydrating.
- Being tired may make it more difficult to think about how we are using our voice putting us at greater risk for those unhealthy habits noted above.
Try relaxation exercises. The best time for relaxation exercises may be at the end of a long day. Stress can cause our muscles to be tense/tight (including muscles of the larynx). Relaxation exercises can help calm your body and release muscle tension. Both the National Sleep Foundation and Mayo Clinic offer suggested relaxation exercises.
Written by Janelle Paul, M.S., CCC-SLP, Supervisor of Specialized Services, Catapult Learning