Dry climates, excessive talking, poor intake of water or clear liquids, and too much caffeine (to name a few) dry out the mucosa of the throat and vocal folds. When the vocal folds become dry, their vibratory pattern is affected, making it much harder to control your pitch. You may experience more pitch and voice breaks when you’re dehydrated. Depending on body size and the climate where you live, most of us should consume between two and four liters of water daily.
Poor sleep is near the top of the list of problems that have a negative impact on the voice. Inadequate sleep results in physical fatigue causing a loss of mental focus which will affect your daily practice routines and your ability to focus on your techniques when you speak. Simple remedies include the use of ear plugs, eye shades and room darkening window coverings. Also avoid caffeine, sugar and junk food, especially close to bedtime. Meditation and quiet breathing exercises before you get into bed can help. Develop an end-of-the-day routine. Avoid work or your computer close to bed. And most of all, don’t resist sleep. Let go and allow your breath to lull you to sleep.
Alcohol and most recreational drugs (i.e., cocaine) have a significant drying and irritating effect on the vocal folds. Marijuana and cigarette smoke are highly irritating to the delicate issues (mucosa) of the vocal folds. The heat and dry smoke “burn” the vocal mucosa causing redness, swelling (in some cases) and poor vibration.
The vocal folds make contact (vibrate) every time you make a sound. When you clear your throat, the vocal folds “slap” together, which, if done excessively, will irritate your vocal folds. Sip water instead of clearing your throat. Warm water (non-caffeinated tea) is best. Keep a water bottle (room temperature) with you at all times. If you experience excessive mucus and feel it’s impossible to avoid clearing your throat, contact your doctor—there may be medical problems underlying the excessive mucus production.
Gastro-esophageal reflux is a medical problem that requires diagnosis and treatment by your physician. Symptoms of gastric reflux are not always consistent with heartburn. If you experience excessive mucus, a bitter taste in your mouth, a rough “morning” voice, or frequent belching, you may have acid reflux. Contact your doctor. Acid reflux is a problem for the voice because the chronic irritation to the vocal folds from stomach acid can lead to a rough, scratchy, deep-pitched voice.
When environmental background noise is high, when we’re talking on the telephone, or in the car, there is a natural phenomenon to push the voice louder (called the Lombard Effect). This usually results in vocal strain and may lead to vocal fold irritation/inflammation. A rough, husky voice is usually the result. Your solution is to learn techniques and consistently use good breath control. Proper airflow reduces tension in the neck and throat when you speak in noisy places.
The single best technique you can learn for your voice is proper abdominal/diaphragmatic breathing. There are many ways to learn these techniques. “Speak from your diaphragm” is the common phrase that communicates the idea that your belly pulls in as you speak, creating a constant and consistent outward flow of air.
“Yes, sir,” may be two of the most annoying words you’ve ever heard. When you’re speaking to someone on the telephone, the only cue that person mt have about who you are is your voice. One answer to this problem is to warm-up your voice and “tune” your pitch before you make calls. Use an upward inflection when you speak. Avoid speaking in a whisper.
Acute laryngitis occurs when you’re sick with a cold, the flu or a sinus infection. The “common cold” sometimes affects the voice. When it does, your speaking pitch may drop significantly. Treat your cold, rest your voice, and drink plenty of water and warm up gently. When in doubt, REST YOUR VOICE.
Some medications (like tricyclic antidepressants and decongestants for treating allergies, spironolactone) have a drying effect. The solution is to speak with your doctor about your medications if you are experiencing excessive dryness that does not resolve by increasing your hydration.