By Lori Ellen Sutton, MA, CCC-SLP

The New Year has come and soon Valentine’s Day will be upon us. While love is in the air, let’s talk about ways that you can show your vocal folds a little love!

Pace your voice: Prioritize your daily voice use and find ways to offload unnecessary voice use. This helps prevent overuse.

Hydrating: Aim to drink a minimum of 64 ounces of water a day for adequate systemic hydration. Supplement with steam treatments for some additional topical hydration.

Avoid dehydrating your vocal folds: Avoid, or at least minimize, caffeine and alcohol intake. If at all possible, try to avoid taking medications, such as antihistamines, that have drying side-effects. If you can’t avoid these meds, compensate for the drying effects by increasing your water intake.

Catch some ZZZ’s : Being well rested is just as good for your vocal folds as it is the rest of your body. Getting adequate rest allows overworked muscles to repair faster. Better rest also helps keep your immune system working at peak effectiveness.

Eat healthily: Eating too much rich food can cause acid reflux, which can inflame the vocal folds and thicken mucus. Maintain strict adherence to dietary and behavioral reflux precautions.

Warming up and cooling down: Your vocal system is muscular and, like with any other physical activity, your muscles need warming up and cooling down before and after intense action. Use gentle hums or trills 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 your muscles to rest. Straw exercises are great for this!

Don’t sing when you are sick: Colds and other upper respiratory illnesses can cause the vocal folds to be inflamed. Singing while sick can cause you to put unnecessary strain on your vocal cords and may cause a more serious injury.

Saying no when necessary: We can’t say yes to everything. Turning down parties or singing opportunities can prevent vocal strain or overuse. Only say “yes” to those opportunities that are REALLY important to you.

Focus on your breathing: Breathing powers the voice, and good breathing patterns are beneficial for both speaking and singing voices.

Get voice training: Even for seasoned singers, having another set of eyes and ears listening to and watching your voice production can be invaluable for ensuring that you are using healthy voice production technique that is specific to the genre of music you primarily sing.

Manage medical issues that can affect the voice: Care for any acid reflux issues with dietary, behavioral, and medical management protocols as prescribed by your physician. Work with your physician to ensure that your allergies and asthma are appropriately managed.

Eliminate vocally traumatic behaviors: Avoid yelling or screaming, talking loudly over background noise, and chronic throat clearing or unnecessary coughing.

Manage stress: Our emotional and vocal systems have some neurological connections, and stress can negatively impact the voice. Slow down. Incorporate physical exercise, meditation, and other calming methods into your routine. Consider formal training in stress management with a specially-trained psychologist.

If you show your vocal folds some consistent love, they will love you right back and always be ready for peak performance!

Lori Ellen Sutton is a voice & swallowing specialist who practices in CEENTA’s SouthPark office. To make an appointment with her, call 704-295-3000.