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Protecting our Voice

February 17, 2012

We’ve all indulged ourselves in a little singing in the shower from time to time, belting out our favorite lyrics into our shampoo bottle and hoping that nobody is around to listen. However, have you ever thought about what is happening to your vocal folds when you sing?

We create the sound that becomes our speaking and singing voices by using our vocal folds to create a vibrating puff of air that is shaped by our vocal tracts (throat, oral and nasal cavities, tongue and teeth) into the sound that we hear. This process is used (albeit outside awareness) by our favorite singers to create vocals for all kinds of musical genres. However, when the vocal folds are used incorrectly, pathologies can occur that damage the voice. For example, vocal nodules, which are thickened areas of tissue on the folds, can occur when vibration (opening and shutting) of the vocal folds leads to impact trauma and scarring, creating an area that is extra susceptible to future damage (Karkos & McCormick, 2009) (1). When vocal nodules form on the vocal folds, the voice can take on a gravelly or abnormal quality.

This can be a concerning issue, especially for people who make their living off the proper functioning of their vocal folds. In fact, many popular singers have dealt with vocal issues such as vocal nodules. Adele, Justin Timberlake, Julie Andrews, and Freddy Mercury are all vocalists who have undergone treatment for vocal nodules, some more successfully than others. Adele in particular enlisted the aid of a vocal coach to learn techniques to reduce the chance of further damaging her voice (2).

We may not all be professional singers, but there are practises we can follow to prevent damage to our own voices. Here are some tips to keep your speaking AND shower voice healthy! (3)

  1. Keep hydrated—this helps to prevent thick mucous from forming on the folds
  2. Avoid throat clearing—this can cause additional trauma to the folds
  3. Avoid excessive shouting or screaming, and try to speak at normal volumes, not too loud or soft.
  4. Avoid smoking and smoke-filled environments

Happy singing!

–Adele Courchesne

References

1. Karkos PD, McCormick M. The etiology of vocal fold nodules in adults. Current Opinion in Otolaryngology & Head and Neck Surgery 2009, 17:420–423.

2. http://www.kovideo.net/adele-ordered-to-stop-singing-talking-to-save-vocal-cords-news-adele-3806.html

3. http://www.uthscsa.edu/oto/voice.asp

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