The voice is used a lot during the holiday season, especially if you are a singer. Charlotte Eye Ear Nose & Throat Associates, P.A. Voice & Swallowing Specialist Lori Ellen Sutton, MA, CCC-SLP discusses caring for your voice during this busy time in this month’s blog.
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year…” unless you are a singer who has six to eight different holiday concert performances and three different holiday parties to attend, all on top of traveling to celebrate with family during this festive season. While the holidays can be magical from a music and celebration perspective, the increased voice demand and overindulgences of the season can take a toll on your voice. The potential consequences of this can range from simply missing some of those performances to more serious voice problems that last long into the New Year. Here are some practical ways you can care for your voice and minimize risk of voice injury in this hectic season.
- 1. Make sure to get enough sleep. With so many obligations between late November and early January, it can be tempting to add extra hours to your day by staying up later. Remember, your vocal mechanism is a smaller part of your whole body. Caring for your voice starts with caring for your whole body. If you are exhausted, you’ll have less mental and physical energy to devote to good vocal hygiene practices and healthy voice production technique. Those who don’t get enough sleep are more susceptible to illness. Sleep is also when our body works to repair overworked muscles. Decreased sleep equals decreased healing and immunity-building time. Strive to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day so that you consistently get 8 hours of shut eye.
- 2. Practice good vocal pacing. Prioritize your voice use each day, looking for ways to reduce or eliminate unnecessary voicing so that you maintain adequate voice rest throughout your daily routine and between all the rehearsals and performances of the holiday season.
- 3. Hydrate! Hydrate! Hydrate! As we tell our pediatric patients, “Water is your voice box’s favorite drink!” Being well hydrated keeps mucus thin and keeps the vocal folds well lubricated so that they vibrate efficiently. Aim to drink a minimum of 64oz of water a day, supplementing this with steam treatments. Keep drying agents such as caffeine, alcohol, and antihistamines to a minimum.
- 4. Practice good hand hygiene. Unfortunately, the holiday season falls right in the middle of cold and flu season. Practicing good hand hygiene is one of the best ways to both prevent getting sick and spreading germs to others if you are sick. For more information regarding best practices in good hand hygiene, see this article from the CDC.
- 5. Adhere to dietary and behavioral reflux precautions. All those fabulous holiday parties make it easy to overindulge. They can both pack on the pounds and exacerbate reflux issues. If reflux gets into your throat on a regular basis it can cause inflammation of the vocal folds, thicken mucus, and increase your desire to cough/clear your throat, which can lead to more vocal fold inflammation. See where I’m going with this? Even if you don’t have serious enough reflux issues to require medications, lifestyle precautions are ALWAYS a good idea, especially during this decadent season.
- 6. DON’T SING IF YOU ARE SICK! I always ask new patients to describe how their voice problem began. All too often I hear the following from singers: “I had a cold/cough/infection and was a little bit hoarse, so I had to push through it for this performance…” If you are sick, particularly with an illness affecting your vocal tract/upper respiratory system, chances are your vocal folds are swollen and inflamed. The BEST thing you can do for them during this time is treat the illness, rest, and hydrate. If you have any degree of laryngitis, it is best to avoid overusing your voice in any capacity with speaking or singing. Better to sit out some rehearsals or a performance to let it resolve than to push through it and risk a more serious vocal injury. The holiday season will come around again next year, I promise! (Remember, any hoarseness that does not resolve on its own in 2-3 weeks should be evaluated by an ENT physician.)
- 7. Don’t forget the warm-up (or the cool-down)! Your vocal mechanism is essentially a muscular system and it responds to principles of exercise physiology the same way other muscles do. Physical athletes always warm up before activity to avoid injury and stretch/cool down afterwards to give the body time to readjust to the change in requirements following intense physical activity. Singers, a.k.a. vocal athletes, need to do the same thing. Warm up to stretch your vocal muscles, get your breath going, and prepare your mind for the act of singing. Use gentle hums on simple downward scales and glides to cool down, help calm your vocal muscles, return your voice to the less intense demands of normal speaking, and prepare muscles to rest.
- 8. Only say “yes” to the events that are truly important to you. With multiple opportunities to perform and party invitations we can often feel pressure to say “yes” to all of it. A wise person once said to me “Just because you CAN, doesn’t mean you SHOULD.” Consider all the performance opportunities and social invitations, but only say “yes” to those that are REALLY important to you. Accept those opportunities that are good for your career, simply make your soul sing, or align with your personal priorities for celebrating with family and friends. If the answer to an invitation isn’t “Heck yeah!”, then it’s no.
Here’s to good vocal health for you and yours during this joyous holiday season!
Lori Ellen Sutton is a Voice & Swallowing specialist who works in our SouthPark office. She received her bachelor’s degree in music from the University of Mississippi and her master’s degree in audiology and speech pathology from the University of Memphis. Her fellowship was at the Scripps Center for Voice and Swallowing in La Jolla, CA.