There are many causes of occasional vocal hoarseness including overuse without adequate recovery, allergies, or colds. It always warrants your attention, but when hoarseness continues for two or more weeks or recurs frequently, you should see a laryngologist or qualified voice therapist as soon as possible. You don’t want to risk anything that can sideline your career if left unattended.
The good news is that your voice can heal with help and good vocal hygiene practices can keep your voice in tip-top shape. Here are some ways you can address vocal hoarseness.
1. Pay attention to posture.
Frederick Matthias Alexander, the founder of the Alexander Technique, was an actor who kept losing his voice. After years of self-exploration, he realized that his habits of movement were causing tension in his neck, restricting his breath, and squeezing his larynx, which led to hoarseness and temporary loss of voice.
As a result, Alexander coined the term “use of the self.” He discovered that often when we try to change our posture, we attempt to hold ourselves a certain way, which restricts the body’s natural need to continually and subtly move in order to balance. In other words, we get stuck and fixed in what we think is the right way to stand, sit, or move. That leads to tension that of course affects the vocal mechanism. Luckily we’re incredibly adaptable. We can relearn to use ourselves as freely and easily as we did when we were toddlers.
Especially if you’re having vocal problems, relearning better ways to move, breathe, sing, or speak is potentially life and career changing. Actors and singers may benefit from private lessons with a certified teacher of the Alexander Technique.
2. Minimize GERD and acid reflux.
For singers and actors whose voices are their livelihood, not to mention often their identity, the effects of recurring heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), are particularly noticeable. When stomach acid rises into the upper esophagus, it can sometimes reach the vocal folds and cause irritation and possible hoarseness.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to minimize or sometimes avoid symptoms altogether. You should watch what you eat, when you eat, and how much you eat. Avoid eating a big meal before you go to bed and limit or avoid caffeine, alcohol, and sodas. Notice what foods trigger your reflux. Common culprits are acidic foods and high-fat foods. Many have found relief with minimal side effects from 100 percent natural remedies, not synthetic flavors, like ginger, licorice, and chamomile. Talk to your healthcare professional about potential treatments.
3. Ask a doctor about vocal nodules and follow their advice.
Vocal nodules or nodes are non-cancerous growths that appear due to issues like misuse or overuse. If you suffer from recurrent or chronic hoarseness, loss of voice, breathiness, reduced vocal range, or produce “split” or multiple tones when phonating, you might have nodes. A laryngologist or ear, nose, and throat doctor (ENT) can diagnose you quickly and painlessly. If you do have nodules, be comforted in knowing that your voice can heal and a professional can recommend the best course of action. Adele, Frank Sinatra, Justin Timberlake, and Luciano Pavarotti all had nodes and overcame them successfully. You can too.
Your vocal health is important so seek advice from a health professional if you have any concerns.
*This post was originally published on April 19, 2019. It has since been updated.
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