Our voices are more than just a sound we make to communicate. Our voices are our identity. Singers are paid millions to entertain a crowd with their powerful and melodious vocals. Politicians, news reporters, preachers, teachers, and counselors are just a few of the many jobs that require being able to speak to a crowd. In our daily lives, we use our voices to speak, to share emotions, and to interact with friends and loved ones. Plenty of people take this ability for granted, but if you woke up one day suddenly mute, you’d realize just how crucial it is to be able to use your voice. Living without a voice is not only challenging, but it can also be downright depressing. So taking care of your voice is essential, especially if your life and career depend on it.
What is Your Voice? And How Do You Produce It?
Let’s go back to our science class for a minute. We were taught about the esophagus and how it works. The esophagus is the passageway for foods, liquids, and air. The esophagus has plenty of parts in it, but the one we’re most interested in is the larynx.
The larynx, also known as your voice box, contains your vocal cords. The vocal cords are two bands of smooth muscles that vibrate whenever the brain sends a signal. Similar to a guitar, when the vocal cords vibrate, they produce sound waves, which is your voice. These sound waves then travel through the throat, nose, and mouth, and that’s how our voices can escape and be heard by other people.
If all vocal cords are built the same, everyone should sound the same, but that is not the case. The quality of a person’s voice, like the pitch, volume, and tone, depends on a few factors. One factor is gender. Men generally have larger and thicker vocal cords, so men’s voices are usually deeper in pitch than women’s. Age also plays a role in the quality of voice. Children have higher pitch voices because their voice boxes are not yet fully developed. Likewise, the degradation of the body from aging can affect the vocal cords. That’s why grandparents have rougher, huskier voices.
No two voices are exactly alike. They can sound similar, but like our fingerprints, our voices are unique to us.
How Will You Know When Something is Wrong?
Now that we are familiar with what our voice is and how it is produced, let’s talk about how not to use it.
In the U.S. alone, more than 17.9 million adults have reported having vocal problems. Why so? A major cause of voice issues comes from overuse. Jobs that require people to speak for a long time or in high volumes can severely damage vocal cords.
Frequent throat clearing, coughing, or not drinking enough water can also cause further damage. Vices too can affect your vocal cords, such as smoking and drinking, since the substances found in cigarettes and alcohol can irritate and dry the esophagus. Finally, certain foods can also irritate the throat. These include fatty food, spicy food, cold food, tomato-based food, citrus, chocolate, coffee, and peppermint.
A few signs and symptoms can tell a person if there is something wrong with their voice box. Hoarseness for more than 2-3 weeks, difficulty in producing your voice, inability to go louder, a raw, itchy feeling in the throat, and difficulty in singing higher notes are few warning signs that something might be wrong. There are plenty of conditions that can affect the vocal cords, ranging from infections to cancer. Diseases from the nose and ears can also affect the larynx because these body parts are all linked to one another. It is highly advised to see a health professional as losing your voice can make working and living more difficult.
Are There Ways to Keep Your Voice Healthy?
There is no need to panic when you are experiencing problems with your voice box. Treatment is always available for people suffering from vocal conditions and ENT doctors are always prepared to help their patients.
With that said, prevention is always better than cure. Being able to care for your voice and not ending up in the clinic is essential if you want to have a smoother life.
A person’s lifestyle always plays a big role in health. Eating the right food and drinking plenty of water is the key to having a healthy voice. Having a good night’s sleep and being able to give your vocal cords a rest is also good. Singers are also trained to warm their voices up with different exercises like humming and chanting notes. Warming your vocals up before any singing, long speeches, or strenuous jobs can ensure that your voice is prepared.
What foods are good and bad for your voice?
The extrinsic muscles of the larynx pull it out of the way when we swallow food. Therefore, certain foods can affect the larynx’s condition and thus our voice.
Water – certainly a key for proper hydration of vocal cords. Dehydration can lead to larynx tissue damage. However, it’s recommended not to consume hot or cold temperature liquids before your speech for at least 2 hours.
High-water content fruits and veggies – our bodies hydrate not only due to water but also due to some of the fruits and veggies that are high in water content. Therefore, it’s important that you consume enough of them on a daily basis as well as before your significant speech. There are plenty of water-rich fruits such as strawberry, cucumber, apple, watermelon, peach, pear – you chose your favorite! Among veggies, there is celery, iceberg lettuce, broccoli, mushrooms, brussel sprouts, and more.
Habits and vocal exercises that are essential in taking care of your voice
Having breaks in between talking is a good way to protect your voice too. Having a 5 to 10 minutes water break can give your vocal cords some time to recover and preserve your voice’s quality. And as an extra tip, avoid clearing your voice since this can irritate your vocal folds. Instead, swallow your own saliva or have some sip of water to lubricate your throat.
Here are some useful voice warm-ups by Vanessa Van Edwards that she uses herself very much successfully:
Our voices are an important asset that we use every day. We rely on them for our jobs, relationships, and personal entertainment. Our voices are also unique and they make us stand out from the crowd. Some can have higher, teenier voices, while others can have lower, baritone voices. Whatever voice you have, it’s important that you are taking care of your voice to keep it safe from any illnesses and danger.
Overusing your vocal cords, screaming and straining them, and having an unhealthy lifestyle can affect your voice’s quality and possibly lead to losing it. Taking care of your voice is essential for your job and identity. Avoiding irritants, giving your vocals a rest, and going to the doctor if problems arise are a few ways to help your voice.
Never underestimate your voice. Your voice makes you who you are and it helps you function in your day-to-day life. Besides, what’s the best way of saying “thank you” to your voice if not to say it out loud?