The holiday season is a time for numerous music events, late nights, and celebrations. Unfortunately, it is also the time a year when your voice is at greatest risk due to cold weather, excessive talking over crowds and loud music, and the many active viruses that are circulating. Damage that occurs in December can last for weeks into the new year.
“Many of the voice patients whom I see in early spring trace their problems back to holiday jams, having pushed themselves through a choral concert with bronchitis, too many talk-fests with must-visit buddies or sibs, or travel circumstances that turned a simple cold into an unshakeable cough,” says speech pathologist and vocal wellness advocate Joanna Cazden, author of Everyday Voice Care: The Lifestyle Guide for Singers and Talkers, (Hal Leonard Corporation, 2012).
Here are 9 tips to avoid a hoarse voice during the holidays:
- Keep your throat warm. Wear a warm scarf around your neck, and if it’s a particularly cold day, pull it up to cover your mouth while you are outdoors. Always breath through your nose, not your mouth. The hairs in your nose actually filter germs and irritants from entering your throat and lungs.
- Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water—up to eight glasses per day. Caffeine dries out vocal folds, so for every caffeinated beverage, drink one additional glass of water. Furnaces and other heating systems can be very drying. Consider setting up a humidifier to eliminate this problem. Another option is to purchase a steamer with a face mask and use it frequently, especially before and after singing engagements.
- Pay attention to your casual conversations. When you are in a voice lesson or practicing for a performance you are very aware of how you use your voice. It’s when you are having casual conversations that you may fall into bad habits like not supporting your voice with enough breath and speaking too loudly, which cause your voice to tire more quickly. “Party as a listener,” suggests Cazden. “Especially in loud settings: immerse yourself in the ‘season’ by appreciating others’ year-end tales; save most of your own voice for gigs waiting ’round the corner in 2014.”
- It’s the same with posture. You are probably acutely aware of your posture while on stage. Check your posture throughout the day. You may be inadvertently collapsing your chest while carrying gear or sitting in front of a computer.
- Take care of your overall health during the holidays. Make time to exercise at least 20 minutes a day and get proper rest. Everyone’s need for sleep is different so listen to your body and take naps to catch up on sleep if you have to. According to Cazden, getting proper sleep boosts your immune system, mood, and vocal resilience. If possible, schedule days of complete vocal rest.
- Watch what you eat and drink, especially late at night. This may be one of the hardest rules to follow this time of year. Both overeating and over drinking can result in increased acid reflux. Acids from your stomach can irritate and inflame both your throat and larynx.
- Get in the habit of swallowing instead of clearing your throat. Throat clearing actually makes your vocal folds smack together in an abrasive fashion, setting you up for a repetitive stress injury to the larynx (or voicebox).
- Lower your risk of developing illness. Get your flu shot. Washing your hands frequently and running a vaporizer at night will make you less susceptible to colds. Avoid using over-the-counter decongestants. They may make you feel better temporarily, but they dry your airways and actually make them more susceptible to infection.
- If your voice does become irritated, stop talking. When you hear a change of any kind in your voice, you should contact an otolaryngologist (an ear/nose throat doctor). Avoid whispering. It is actually very stressful for your voice. Vocal problems will only become worse if they are ignored.