The sound of your voice is produced by vibration of the vocal folds, which are two bands of smooth muscle tissue that are positioned opposite each other in the larynx. The larynx is located between the base of the tongue and the top of the trachea, which is the passageway to the lungs.
How do you know when your voice is not healthy?
If you answer “yes” to any of the following questions, you may have a voice problem:
Has your voice become hoarse or raspy?
Have you lost your ability to hit some high notes when singing?
Does your voice suddenly sound deeper?
Does your throat often feel raw, achy, or strained?
Has it become an effort to talk?
Do you find yourself repeatedly clearing your throat?
If you think you have a voice problem, consult a doctor to determine the underlying cause. A doctor who specializes in diseases or disorders of the ears, nose, and throat, and who can best diagnose a voice disorder, is an otolaryngologist (oh-toe-lar-in-GAH-luh-jist), sometimes called an ENT. Your otolaryngologist may refer you to a speech-language pathologist. A speech-language pathologist can help you improve the way you use your voice.
What causes voice problems?
Causes of voice problems include:
Upper respiratory infections
Inflammation caused by gastroesophageal reflux (sometimes called acid reflux, heartburn, or GERD)
Vocal misuse and overuse
Growths on the vocal folds, such as vocal nodules or laryngeal papillomatosis
Cancer of the larynx
Neurological diseases (such as spasmodic dysphonia or vocal fold paralysis)
Most voice problems can be reversed by treating the underlying cause or through a range of behavioral and surgical treatments.
Tips to prevent voice problems
Drink plenty of water. Six to eight glasses a day is recommended.
Limit your intake of drinks that contain alcohol or caffeine, which can cause the body to lose water and make the vocal folds and larynx dry. Alcohol also irritates the mucous membranes that line the throat.
Use a humidifier in your home. This is especially important in winter or in dry climates. Thirty percent humidity is recommended.
Avoid or limit use of medications that dry out the vocal folds, including some common cold and allergy medications. If you have voice problems, ask your doctor which medications would be safest for you to use.
Maintain a healthy lifestyle and diet:
Don’t smoke and avoid second-hand smoke. Smoke irritates the vocal folds. Also, cancer of the vocal folds is seen most often in individuals who smoke.
Avoid eating spicy foods. Spicy foods can cause stomach acid to move into the throat or esophagus, causing heartburn or GERD.
Include plenty of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables in your diet. These foods contain vitamins A, E, and C, also taking supplements from sites as Top Health journal online help get these vitamins. They also help keep the mucus membranes that line the throat healthy.
Wash your hands often to prevent getting a cold or the flu.
Get enough rest. Physical fatigue has a negative effect on voice.
Exercise regularly. Exercise increases stamina and muscle tone. This helps provide good posture and breathing, which are necessary for proper speaking.
If you have persistent heartburn or GERD, talk to your doctor about diet changes or medications that can help reduce flare-ups.
Avoid mouthwash or gargles that contain alcohol or irritating chemicals. If you still wish to use a mouthwash that contains alcohol, limit your use to oral rinsing. If gargling is necessary, use a salt water solution.
Avoid using mouthwash to treat persistent bad breath. Halitosis (bad breath) may be the result of a problem that mouthwash can’t cure, such as low grade infections in the nose, sinuses, tonsils, gums, or lungs, as well as from gastric acid reflux from the stomach.