Vocal Hygiene

Every September and February I am accustomed to losing my voice for a day or two due to the amount of talking I do to get my new semester classes set up and ready to go. In fact, I thought it was normal to lose my voice a couple times a year in my profession as a teacher. These past two and half years however, I noticed I lost my voice for longer and longer periods of time. So I not only did not have a voice in September and February, but December and June as well.

In early 2016 I noticed things were getting out of hand as I lost proper function of my voice for several days. I had minimal function of my voice for two weeks near the end of January, and  from June to mid-July I still did not have my full voice back. So I was actually afraid to start in September as I did not have a properly functioning voice. Well September started and my voice was back to being a mess and I just could not understand what was going on.

Not only was I nervous to start work with an unreliable voice I was actually starting to fear that I might lose my passion to teach chemistry (without a voice how can I share my enthusiasm?).  During this time (Sept-Dec) I also did not want to socialize or go anywhere where I would be talking to anyone – for fear of losing the little voice I had and for having to explain my situation each time to everyone.

In addition to my voice issues, I dropped 15 lbs when I was actually trying to gain weight. This confused me further as no matter how much food I was consuming I just could not gain any weight. In fact I just kept losing weight. My work outs had not increased in intensity but, I had gone through a food change and was not eating gluten containing foods, cheese, or drinking milk. I do not feel this change was so drastic that I would be pulled down to 103lbs. This scared me and I started drawing up conclusions about what could be going on. This was definitely not healthy, as I was not happy, I was very confused and scared, and I did not want to talk to anyone. So I closed myself off from everyone, but kept a smile plastered to my face – since that is all I could do on the outside was smile (not talk). But it was tearing  me up inside. I  did not like it one bit but I felt like I did not have a choice. I would come home from work and  not have a voice to even sing my children their favorite lullaby let alone read my them a bedtime story.

During this process, I had my family doctor look into things further and recommend I follow some steps for “vocal hygiene.” He also had me see an amazing ENT (Ear, Nose, Throat) Specialist/Surgeon who used a specialized scope to see what my vocal cords looked like.

Apparently, I was not using my vocal cords properly and it was a mess in my throat. Instead of using my vocal muscles to produce a “voice,” I was using too many other muscles just to produce a sound and that is considered bad practice! So he recommended I start voice therapy to get some techniques to bring my voice back. While all that was going on, my specialist  found some lumps in my throat which appeared to be swollen lymph nodes. He  had me go in for some ultrasounds and the lumps turned out to be nodules and after further ultrasound  analysis, they were back to being lumps on my thyroid gland. Now I am waiting to get scheduled for a biopsy to make sure they are benign.

Here are the vocal hygiene tips recommended by my family doctor from DukeHealth:

  1. Internal hydration (drink plenty of water)
  2. External hydration (breathe steam, use room humidification)
  3. Be watchful of medications that dehydrate (cough drops, throat lozenges, allergy meds)
  4. Avoid vocal misuse (yelling, screaming, talking in noisy situations, talking a lot, whispering, singing without training)
  5. Avoid throat clearing

I will be sharing a lot more tips and strategies on voice therapy!

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Face Steamer – just add 30 mL of water in the base and inhale the steam!

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