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Three Vocal Sins That May Lead To Vocal Troubles

Written by: Katarina Hornakova, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


We all take our voices for granted! Nobody taught us how to care for our voices at school. Even teachers, who use their voices like athletes, often don’t know how to prevent vocal injuries. We rarely, maybe never, think about how to take care of our own voice until … we experience vocal trouble. Then, we scramble to get the best vocal remedy that will cure hoarseness in 24 hours! But that is not always possible.

I suggest that we start paying attention to our voices before something goes wrong. If you give your voice what it needs now, it will reward you with longevity and health. Most of these suggestions are common sense, such as good hydration, enough sleep and vocal rest, balanced diet and movement for the whole body.

But then, there are some behaviours, which may lead to vocal troubles, and we should try to avoid them. Some of these behaviours are well-recognized by the general public as harmful. For example, smoking can affect the health of your lungs as well as your voice box. Shouting and yelling on a regular basis can harm the integrity of the vocal folds. Pushing your voice beyond its natural limits also invites vocal troubles. But the most dangerous behaviours for your voice are the ones that you don’t know are dangerous. And here are three examples.

1. Chronic throat clearing

What’s wrong with clearing the phlegm from your throat? Nothing, if you don’t do it too often. But if you develop a habit of constant throat clearing that is unproductive, then you are putting your vocal folds at risk. Every time you clear your throat, you bring the vocal folds together in a forceful way. This action harms the most superficial layer of the vocal folds. If you keep doing that over and over again this layer becomes damaged, which puts your voice at risk for vocal injury.

2. Habitual mouth breathing

When breathing through the nose, the inhaled air is cleaned, moistened and warmed up before entering the lungs. Mouth breathing bypasses these important steps. Mouth breathing, which drives in cold, dirty and dry air, can affect the tissues lining the oral cavity and respiratory tract, including the lining of the vocal folds. This tissue may be damaged as a result of dehydration and exposure to irritants present in air. It is normal to breathe through the mouth in some situations, like exercising or singing. But habitual mouth breathing can put your voice at risk for vocal injury.

3. Talking in loud environments

Étienne Lombard was a French otolaryngologist who discovered that people involuntarily raise their voice when speaking in a loud environment. This, so-called Lombard reflex, leads to increased vocal effort and voice straining. The Lombard reflex affects not only loudness but also pitch. What’s wrong with that? Nothing if you don’t use your voice too much in noisy environments. But if you frequently compete with loud environments with your voice, you may be asking for trouble. For example, talking or singing in front of big audiences without proper amplification or a feedback loop, talking on the phone in the car with open windows, or talking in a noisy restaurant for prolonged periods of time can lead to vocal fatigue and strain.

The solution is to first become aware of these behaviours and start eliminating them from your life. It may be more challenging to deal with some of them than others, for example habitual throat clearing or mouth breathing require strong motivation and time to reduce. But you can always talk to your doctor or a voice specialist to find solutions for your voice and life.

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Katarina Hornakova, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Katarina Hornakova is a licensed speech-language pathologist, vocal health coach, and educator with 20+ years of experience working with diverse groups of people from all corners of the world, including speakers, singers, musicians, teachers, presenters, voice-over actors, entrepreneurs, yoga instructors, health educators, and others. She has published several books and articles on speech, language, and voice disorders. Katarina is most passionate about helping people who experience vocal tension, strain, or even pain when speaking, find more vocal ease and confidence to share their message with the people around them. Her mission is to give voice to those who have lost it. She continues to develop her deep fascination with the human voice through the Estill Voice System model, which formed her belief that “every voice is beautiful”. Katarina has helped hundreds of people discover their true vocal potential. She is a curious life-long learner herself who loves to meet new people, cook, and travel.



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