If you’re a coach or a teacher, it’s no doubt that you’ve strained or lost your voice or at the very least suffered with a sore throat when you have to coach or teach. This isn’t a hopeless situation! There are some guidelines you can follow to alleviate the suffering – or at least get through those hours – when you need to use your voice.
If anyone would know what intense coaching and teaching can do to your voice, it’s Patti Komara*. She’s one of the industry’s most amazing and experienced at teaching gymnastics! But even she has worn her throat out, developing vocal nodes on her throat that required her to go to speech therapy.
Here is her list of 10 guidelines that she learned from her speech therapy experience:
- When you have a sore throat or you need vocal rest, speak softly. Don’t raise your voice or whisper (we tend to strain as we whisper and that puts a strain on our vocal cords).
- Drink a lot of water. Keep the cords hydrated. Soda pop dries out the vocal cords and alcohol and cigarettes are the worst. Milk creates mucous.
- Keep the rooms that you spend time in filled with humidity, especially your bedroom. It should be no less than 40% humidity. Get a thermostat and barometer meter to hang on your wall.
- Don’t hack your throat or cough. You should sniff and swallow.
- Don’t turn away from whom you’re speaking to – look at them and speak softly.
- If you can, use a microphone when the music is on in the gym or dance school.
- Breathe through your nose, not your mouth, especially when exercising.
- Say fewer words.
- When sore, gargle 1 tsp. of salt in a glass of warm water. It knocks off the mucous from the cords.
- When at work, instead of yelling into the next room, use the inter-office intercom if available.
Information gathered by ABC News agrees with Patti!
In 5 Myths for Remedies, the only ones that are reported as true by the ABC News post are also ones that Patti shares as two of her ten guidelines.
Check out these five items to see if you’ve tried to cure your throat problems with false hope.
Myth #1: Drink tea with lemon and honey.
Is this a real cure? No.
There is nothing wrong with honey, but tea and lemon are both acidic, which poses a serious problem to anyone who wants their voice to return.
The vocal folds are made of delicate, epithelial tissue. Though food may not come in contact with them directly during food consumption (if it did, you would choke), acidic foods can trigger acid reflux, bathing the throat area in corrosive stomach acids. The vocal folds are already subject to chronic low levels of inflammation because of normal reflux events that occur up to 50 times during the day.
Tomatoes, citrus fruits and chocolate are some acidic foods to avoid that can help to prevent reflux that can further damage the vocal folds.
Myth #2: Slippery elm is a natural remedy for a raspy voice.
Is this a real cure? No.
Tea or lozenges made from the bark of the slippery elm tree has long been used as a remedy for sore, scratchy throats because this bark contains a gooey substance meant to be soothing. Singers go for the remedy, but there is no scientific evidence showing slippery elm is effective at protecting the voice or healing vocal folds.
Sometimes it’s tough to tell if something that seems to work is a placebo or real because people really want to take something and get better right away. But since doctors admit that remedies such as slippery elm don’t really do any harm, it’s probably safe to try it if it provides comfort to do so.
Myth #3: Drink a lot of water.
Is this a real cure? Yes.
Staying hydrated is simple and effective and it’s one of the best things to do when struggling with throat and voice problems.
Viral infections and colds, as well as some of the medications people take when they are sick, cause dehydration and impair the body’s ability to produce lubrication naturally.
Water can help bring back a lost voice by lubricating the vocal folds and the rest of the throat. The vocal folds vibrate about 100 times per second in men and about 200 times per second in women. Water is necessary to keep that amount of friction from wearing down the epithelial tissue.
A professor and director of the Vocal Health Center at the University of Michigan Medical School notes that moist is good for the voice. Vibration of those folds is the fundamental source or sound. So if it doesn’t respond the way it normally does, hoarseness is the result.
Water is also a major component of the jelly matrix that comprises the bulk of the vocal folds. Hydration keeps the folds at the correct fullness so that they vibrate well and are not too tense to close properly, which creates a ragged, croaky sound.
Using humidifiers or breathing steam can serve the same purpose, offering just a little more hydration to the sinuses and throat to promote healing.
Viral infections are tough to prevent, to shorten or recover from, so it’s important to learn how to live with it and minimize the impact of infections to the throat.
Myth # 4: Have a hot toddy.
Is this a real cure? No.
Warm and sweet with a splash of alcohol and perhaps a few spices – that’s a hot toddy. The warming drinks, fortified with brandy, rum or whiskey, are considered by many to stave off viral infections and soothe a raspy voice. But experts advise staying away from hot toddies. No. Stay away from them!
Even though it sort of feels like the liquid is going down the throat and cleaning things out, it isn’t. Actually it will be worse later.
If you’re sick with a viral infection and struggling to speak, or you’ve simply strained your voice into raspy hoarseness, your throat needs to heal and to do that it needs moisture. Alcohol does the opposite – it dehydrates and compounds your symptoms. Hot toddies usually are made with tea and lemon or orange – which promote acid reflux.
The alcohol and the acid are causing more damage than good.
Myth #5: Whisper if you want to be heard.
Is this a real cure? No.
Forcing sounds when the vocal folds are inflamed is not recommended for fast healing because it smacks the vocal folds together with more force than they normally use and stresses them even more than the normal mechanical stress that can inflame on its own.
The extra stress on the folds, from whispering or even loud throat clearing, can push already inflamed and irritated tissues beyond their limits and increase the time required for the throat to heal.
Resting the vocal folds and throat by keeping silent is one of the best ways to promote healing. This would include refraining from singing, minimizing time spent on the telephone and avoiding whispering or talking over loud music or crowds.
But a person’s natural tendency to want to be heard can interfere with this plan. And a coach or teacher’s need to provide guidance and direction to a room full of students usually forces you to use your already stressed throat. Extra inflammation or damage affects you more than someone who does not use their voice as often.
When you keep using an ailing throat, you open yourself up to greater potential for permanent injury or severe damage from polyps, cysts, scar tissue.
When you boil it down, regaining a lost voice is simply a matter of time. It’s important to “listen” to your voice. You can tell when it sounds different. When it does, it’s just trying to tell you something.