Ever attend a really exciting concert and wake up hoarse the next day?
Ever talk so much you lose your voice?
Ever realize that your voice has changed and you don’t know why?
Your vocal cords, also known as vocal folds, are a couple of membranes attached to the sides of your throat. When you blow air up through the windpipe and bring them together, they vibrate against one another, producing minute disturbances in the air. Put together in the presence of ears, those minute disturbances are a voice.
When we move the small muscles connected to the cartilage the vocal folds are attached to, it changes the sound of our voice. If we stretch our vocal folds out thin, we produce a higher pitch. Alternatively, if we make them loose and really floppy, our voice will go low.
When we force more air through our vocal folds, they spend a longer time apart and we produce more volume.
There is a fine line between being good to your voice and abusing it. Vocal trauma can result in disorders that affect your ability to talk, sing, shout, murmur, and croon. Sometimes these can disorders go away on their own, as in many cases of laryngitis; other times, these voice problems require medical intervention.
The good news is there are a few things you can do to prevent problems related to vocal trauma.
- The first and most important thing you can do to keep your voice healthy is to drink water. The water we drink does not go directly to the vocal folds, however. In order to hydrate your voice, the water must go through other systems in the body first. In fact, it takes about 18 hours for the water we drink to reach our vocal folds. While the exact volume of water adults are supposed to drink every day varies, it’s around 48 to 64 ounces a day. Drink more if you drink things that dry you out like coffee or alcohol.
- Another way to be kind to your voice is to avoid talking in a pitch that is too high or too low. Everyone is different, with a different range of pitch that is comfortable. When you try to talk too high or too low for an extended period of time, it can lead to an unpleasant vocal fold disorder.
- Similarly, don’t talk too loudly or scream too much (like at a concert). All that banging together that your vocal folds can cause damage.
- Another way to protect your voice is to abstain from smoking and being around secondhand smoke. The chemicals in the smoke can irritate the membranes of your vocal folds. Also, cancer.
- Breathe through your nose. When you breathe through your mouth, the air doesn’t have as far to travel before it gets to your throat. Because of this, your body can’t warm the air up as much. Fun fact: there are tiny hairs on the inside of your nose that catch particles and bacteria so you don’t suck them into your lungs.
- Try not to clear your throat all the time. Especially if you have acid reflux, this can be difficult. However, every time you clear your throat, you rub and grate your vocal folds together. Too much of this can leave them raw and begging for relief. Try this instead: Every time you get the urge to clear your throat, take a small sip of ice cold carbonated water.
If you’re wondering what really happens when you injure your vocal folds, just do a Google image search for “vocal fold overuse” and you can see an array of unhealthy throats. Just looking at it might make you thirsty.
You only have one voice. Let it be heard.