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Vocal strain: How to take care of your voice

TGIF everyone! Today's ENT blog post is a guest post written by Dr Phua Sin Yong, who is a Speech Language Therapist at Speech Matters Pte Ltd. Dr Phua has kindly written on the topic of vocal strain and how to take care of your voice. We hope you find it informative!

What is Vocal Strain (Dysphonia)?

Vocal strain is a voice problem or disorder that affects a person’s ability to speak normally. People lose their voice from time to time, but in most cases, their voices recover soon after.

What can cause Vocal Strain?

A number of different conditions may cause voice changes. For professional voice users, like teachers and singers, vocal strain is one of the most common causes of voice problems. Vocal strain may be a result of overuse or incorrect use of the vocal cords, which then results in uncomfortable or painful symptoms. Voice strain can dramatically change how one's voice sounds or can cause difficulties in producing voice. Proper care and treatment of vocal strain is recommended to prevent permanent damage.

What are some Signs and Symptoms of Vocal Strain?

Signs of vocal strain may include:

  • Pain or discomfort while talking or singing

  • Rough or croaky voice, breaks in voice while talking or singing

  • Loss of voice range, with reduced ability to produce different notes, higher or lower pitch sounds

  • Tightness or increasing tightness of the throat area while talking or singing

  • Tension increases over the course of the day leading to more difficulties using the voice

  • Increased irritation of the throat, often prompting the need to throat clear or cough more

What can you do if you are experiencing Vocal Strain?

Here are some tips to help you take care of your voice:


1. Reduce voice use, including talking and singing

2. Remain well hydrated

When your voice is strained, staying hydrated is important

Do Not:

1. Clear your throat excessively

2. Shout or talk loudly, unless otherwise advised by a medical professional

3. Whisper

4. Get louder to talk over background noise

What can you do if your voice problems persist?

For most people, voice problems resolve on their own. However, for some individuals, their voices do not return to their original sound. Individuals with persistent voice problems should consult their doctor for advice.

A doctor may want to perform an examination of a patient's throat

You can consult a doctor or an Ear Nose & Throat (ENT) Specialist. An ENT would conduct a thorough examination of the voice box (larynx) to diagnose the problem and provide the necessary medical intervention. A referral to a Speech-Language Therapist might be needed to help the person regain their voice or learn to use his/ her voice in an efficient and effective manner. One option you may want to pursue is vocal therapy. Vocal therapy is a non-surgical approach to treating voice problems, with the aim of optimizing voice use, addressing flawed voicing techniques, and treating preexisting voice problems.

Voice Therapy

Voice therapy is highly individualized. The therapy exercises and techniques are recommended following a detailed evaluation by a Speech Language Therapist.

A Speech Therapist can teach exercises for speech therapy

These exercises may include strategies to:

  • Optimize the voice and strengthen the vocal cords

  • Eliminate harmful vocal habits

  • Address and modify voice production methods or techniques

  • Educate on voice use, and lifestyles that promote good voice care

Common tips for regular voice care:

1. Ensure adequate hydration – keeping the vocal cords lubricated is essential

2. Avoid talking or singing over loud noises – consider the use of other means of getting attention or getting the voice amplified

3. Rest the voice whenever possible – non-essential talking or voice use should be minimized to allow the vocal cords to rest

4. Use the natural voice – excessive use of high pitch or loud or soft voice may cause harm.

5. Rest your voice when it shows signs of distress – when your voice is hoarse or different from the usual voice, continued and persistent use of the voice may lead to further voice trauma.

6. Get professional advice from a voice coach or singing teacher if needed.

Frequently Asked Questions
Q1. Should I drink lemon/honey/herbal drinks or syrup to soothe the vocal cords?

A1: Drinking more fluids helps to keep the vocal cords hydrated. It is important to note that these fluids do not go directly onto the vocal cords to soothe or lubricate them. In short, these drinks do not help soothe the vocal cords.

Q2. Should I avoid spicy food?

A2: As a general rule, spicy food should be avoided when one experiences voice problems. Spicy foods might increase the risk of gastric reflux or cause persistent irritation of the throat, which might in turn make voice problems worse. If you would like to know more about gastric acid reflux, you can read more about it here.

Avoid spicy foods if you are experiencing vocal stress

Q3. What is voice rest?

Voice rest is often prescribed to reduce irritation and harm to the vocal cords. Voice rest works because often irritation and inflammation just need time to resolve. Try not to talk at all for two to three days. If you must talk, limit the amount to less than a few minutes per day. If talking is absolutely necessary, do so in a normal talking tone and avoid being loud.

Q4. My voice is very weak or strained during the day. Is that normal?

Generally, no. Difficulties producing voice after using it for the whole day at work is suggestive that your voice has been overused, or incorrectly used. The weakness of voice is a result of the voice strain during the day. Consider looking at ways to reduce voice strain.

If you believe you may have vocal strain or voice problems and would like to see an ENT specialist, you can contact us at Euan's ENT Surgery & Clinic.

If you would like to make an appointment with a Speech-Language Therapist, you can do so here.

Thank you again to Dr Phua Sin Yong for her advice!

Thank you for reading! We hope you have a pleasant Friday!


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