Vocal First Aid

Dealing with short-term vocal strain?  Here is your emergency tool-kit (adapted from my book Everyday Voice Care: The Lifestyle Guide for Singers and Talkers (Hal Leonard, 2012.) If you’re often in emergency, of course, something may be wrong with your throat, technique, or work schedule that needs more in-depth attention. So be honest!

(1) Vocal rest as much as possible, SERIOUSLY no singing/talking for two to three days , 48-72 hours. Drink two quarts of water or tea per day (three quarts for bigger bodies), and zero alcohol, coffee, or “energy drinks.”

(2) Breathe steam for 5-10 minutes, 1-2x each day (long showers, steam-room, “facial” steam appliance, etc. NO menthol, eucalyptus or other aroma-therapy, just clean H20).

(3) For two minutes every two to three hours, (4-6 times per day) do one of the following exercises. These are physiologically the safest types of vocalizing, and may help cellular healing. Choose one or the other, as you prefer:

(a) light easy humming in a comfy mid-range with as much nasal/buzzy feeling in the front of the face as you can do at QUIET intensity. Hum on either a steady tone, a pitch glide up/down, or some of each.

(b) vocalize a light easy “oooh” through a straw. This also can be done on a steady pitch, or gliding up/down in medium pitch range. (See Youtube, “Ingo Titze straw phonation” for instructions, but only do it for a couple of minutes. His video shows a warm up for healthy voices; for repair, do less.)

Do NOT force or over-do these. Do NOT test the extremes of your pitch range. If exercising feels uncomfortable, do less. Just resting is OK.

SKIP THIS WARMUP STEP COMPLETELY IF YOU LOST YOUR VOICE SUDDENLY WHILE SINGING/TALKING/PERFORMING; OR IF A DOCTOR SUSPECTS, OR HAS DIAGNOSED, A VOCAL FOLD HEMORRHAGE.

(4) Use quiet time as an opportunity to increase general self-care: seek light&healthy nutrition, moderate and mindful exercise, generous sleep, bodywork or massage, relaxation-breathing, prayer. Avoid weight lifting, strenuous abdominal exercises, or heavy labor that tempts you to hold your breath. Massage around your voice box if you’ve learned how.

(5) See the best laryngologist you can afford —ideally not just a general ENT but someone whose credentials include a post-residency FELLOWSHIP in laryngology—

  • If you lost your voice suddenly; or
  • If there is pain in your voice or throat; or
  • If nothing improves at all in a couple of days; or
  • If your voice doesn’t rebound to normal within 10 days; or
  • If in a few days you can force your voice to sound normal again, but it still feels weird and you secretly know that it isn’t really back to normal!!

Everyone wants a magic pill to make hoarseness disappear. The only magical power is in PREVENTION, and no one but you can access that power. So use this quieter time to consider and plan how to better prioritize vocal demands, recommit to thoughtful daily warm ups, take care of yourself in general, and minimize problems in the future. Your cords, and your career, will thank you.

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