May 12, 2010

Healing vocal strain, part 1

Last Thursday, I did something really stupid.

The five hours of coaching wasn't stupid, but I could feel my voice getting tired by the end of it.

Having dinner with two good friends wasn't stupid, but talking for two hours over the noise in a busy restaurant probably wasn't the best idea.

No, the stupid part was cranking up the music in my car and singing at the top of my lungs all the way home -- after the five hours of training and two hours of talking with friends.

The next morning, not only was my voice strained (although oddly not hoarse), but I had so injured my vocal cords that my neck was sore and tender. That night I could barely sleep, trying to find a comfortable position all night long that didn't hurt my neck or throat.

I've written before about how to protect your voice from strain, but now I realize that I've not written about what to do after a strain.

For part 1 of my vocal strain series, I asked speech therapist, vocal coach and author Joanna Cazden for her advice, and she shares her tips below. I am attempting to take Joanna's advice, especially about the voice rest. We'll see how long it takes for this to clear up completely! For those of us who make a living with our voices, it's imperative that we know not only how to prevent overuse, but what to do when it happens.

Take it away, Joanna!

First aid kit for vocal strain is:

(1) Vocal rest as much as possible; except

(2) Light easy humming on a medium pitch, or glides up and down, with very forward/nasal/buzzy feeling, for a few minutes every hour.

(3) Breathe steam for 10 minutes at least 2 times day (long showers, steam-room, steam-inhaler gizmo or etc.; NO aroma-therapy, just plain water).

(4) General self-care: stress-relief, healthy food and water, moderate exercise, massage/bodywork, prayer, sleep. NO weight lifting or ab work that involves holding your breath AT ALL.

If nothing improves at all in a couple of days, your voice actually hurts, or some level of hoarseness hangs on more than 2 weeks, see a laryngologist (ear-nose-throat MD who understands voice.)

Lots of ENTs specialize in other types of problems, so ask the best singers in your area whom they go to. A voice examination with just a little mirror is barely worth the time and cost; some kind of endoscope view is essential. The best voice docs have exam equipment called 'videostroboscopy,' so ask when you make the appointment.

Everyone who strains their voice wants to be able to drink something or take a pill to make it better. But vocal cords are part of the airway, so nothing that you eat or drink touches them!

Tea is not harmful, but the place it feels good is about an inch higher in your throat than where the voice is located. And painkilling lozenges and sprays just tempt you away from vocal rest. Silence, steam, and sleep are the real "magic pill," along with the very brief exercise above, which appears to speed up the healing process.

MOST IMPORTANT: Learn from the experience so it doesn't happen again!!! Cumulative wear-and-tear on the edges of vocal cords can lead to permanent thickening, scarring, and strain.

For more helpful information on voice care, check out Joanna's book, "How to Take Care of Your Voice: The Lifestyle Guide for Singers and Talkers."

Here are two of my previous posts on voice care:

Voice care #2: How's your pitch?

Voice care #3: Acoustics

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2 comments. Please add yours! :

Kristin Arnold said...

Hope it doesn't happen again, either! Received this odd remedy from a welder in Urbanna Ohio when I started to loose my voice on day two of a week-long training:
He said, "take one jigger of jagermeister plus a cup of hot tea with honey and lemon. Sip both before you go to bed. You'll be right as rain in the morning!"
I figured I had nothing to lose, so I went to the bar, got a shot of Jagermeister, got my tea and went to bed. Sure enough, I awoke the next morning in much better shape! That was my nightly ritual for that week and thank goodness I didn't keep that going!

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Kristen, it was probably the steam in the hot tea that did all the work. If you notice in Joanna's comments, she points out that food and drink go nowhere near the vocal cords, as they're in the airway, not the esophagus! But we've all heard the folk remedies. Maybe partly the placebo effect?

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