Can winter affect your voice? The answer is yes! Winter can be a difficult season for our vocal health, what with the cold air, dry environment, and a higher risk of catching colds or flu.
Did you know that your vocal cords (the two muscular bands inside your voice box that produce the sound of your voice) prefer moist, warm air? This is because the environment inside our throats is moist and warm. When we breathe in cold and dry air, the vocal cords can become desiccated. This makes them more susceptible to vocal fatigue, vocal fold inflammation, and even vocal fold injuries.
Expert tips for maintaining vocal health in the wintertime
Luckily, there are things you can do to protect your voice in the winter, no matter where you live (and what viruses are circulating!). Here are 7 ways to keep your voice healthy in winter weather and during cold and flu season.
1 Breathe in through your nose
Nasal breathing has many health benefits. Breathing in through your nose can help filter dust and other allergens. It also naturally humidifies the air that you breathe in. Mouth breathing, on the other hand, can lead to dry mouth.
2 Use steam
Breathing in cold and dry air can lead to dryness in the vocal fold tissues. If you have a dry mouth or dry throat, try using a humidifier or steamer. You can also simply breathe in the steam from a warm shower.
Another benefit to steaming: If you have a cold, breathing in moist air can help break up the mucus in your throat.
3 Stay hydrated
Drinking plenty of fluids helps to hydrate your entire body and lubricate and protect your vocal fold tissues. It also decreases the irritation that may lead to coughing episodes. Be sure to drink plenty of healthy fluids like water throughout the day.
4 Try lozenges for dry mouth
If you’re dealing with a dry mouth or dry throat, decrease your use of antihistamines and mint. Try lozenges with ingredients such as slippery elm, manuka honey, or fennel. In addition, check any medications you take for possible drying side effects.
5 Do vocal warm-ups and cool-downs
In the colder weather, it may take your voice a bit longer to warm up. Consider adding vocal cool-downs to your vocal routine to combat vocal fatigue, flush lactic acid from the muscles, and prevent vocal injury. It may be useful to complete a vocal warm-up and cool-down before and after any vocal activity. You can explore vocal exercises with lip trills, tongue trills, or humming with pitch glides. Straw phonation is a great exercise for preventing and combating vocal fatigue.
6 Rest your voice
If you have a sore throat, cough, or laryngitis, it is recommended to rest your voice to allow the acute inflammation to reduce. When you do need to speak, try using a “confidential voice,” which means speaking in a low pitch and tone without increased vocal effort.
According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), confidential voice is designed to address vocal tension and help the larynx muscles relax. To do it, begin with an easy, breathy vocal quality, and build to normal voicing without decreasing airflow.
If you have a cold, you may still feel fine speaking and singing. However, if you feel pain while using your voice, it’s best to rest. Listen to your body, and do what feels right to help your voice recover from a cold.
7 Support your immune system
Your voice will benefit from a holistic, “whole body” approach. Support your mind and body by getting 7 to 8 hours of deep, restful sleep each night. Try to eat healthy foods, and practice self-care activities to reduce stress and anxiety, especially around the holidays. Focusing on your immune system is especially smart during cold and flu season.
How a speech therapist can help persistent vocal issues
If you have a sore throat that lasts longer than two weeks, it is recommended to seek care from an otolaryngologist (ENT). Following an evaluation with a trained physician, voice therapy may be recommended. Many licensed speech therapists specialize in voice therapy to treat and manage voice disorders.
Your voice therapist will work with you to create an individualized plan of care. They’ll guide you in vocal hygiene practices and help you access a speaking and/or singing voice that feels healthy and efficient for you.