Jan 162015
 
  • Is winter worse for the speaking voice?
  • Is it possible to maintain a healthy voice during cold season?
  • Why are some people susceptible to hoarse voice, especially in cold weather?

Winter brings dry skin and chapped lips, as well as increased vocal problems for many people, not only professional voice users such as teachers, singers and clergy.  In fact, most people actually rely on their voices in the average day more than they realize.  Speaking on the phone, participating in meetings, socializing — all these activities engage the voice and in some cases, place strain on the vocal cords.

What is different about the winter season?

In the northeast and other parts of the country where cold weather prevails for several months, heating systems pump out dry, warm air. Many people lower their fluid consumption, especially water, because they aren’t feeling as thirsty as they would during the summer.  Without adequate moisture, tissues in the larynx (where the vocal cords are located) dry out.  This results in a greater tendency for hoarse, raspy vocal quality, especially when we place greater speaking demands on the voice.

Winter also brings an increase in colds and all forms of upper respiratory infection.  Colds produce excess mucous, an annoyance that most people deal with by forceful throat clearing. Unfortunately, this sets up a cycle of clearing, further irritation, and increased mucous.

How to handle the dryness caused by indoor heating as well as the irritation and excess mucous from colds?

Speech pathologists who treat voice problems emphasis general vocal care for everyone, especially for people who rely on their voice for work.  During the winter, especially cold season, the principles of vocal care/vocal hygiene become even more important.  Here are some of the recommendations I make for professional voice users, as well as the average speaker:

  • drink extra water during the day, especially when speaking
  • avoid forceful throat clearing by using a silent swallow
  • drink warm, decaffeinated drinks (caffeine dehydrates the delicate tissues in the vocal area)
  • reduce the strain you put on your vocal cords by becoming conscious of how you use your voice in noisy environments

The last, and perhaps the most important piece of advice: use proper breath support for speech.  Singers learn techniques of breath support for performance, as do actors, but most speakers have little training in this critical skill.  Speech pathologists who treat voice disorders can guide all speakers, not just professional voice users, in breath techniques to avoid vocal strain and maintain a healthy speaking voice.

Care for your voice all year ’round and it will be less likely to cause you difficulties in the winter.

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Check back soon for more articles on public speaking, executive function and speech pathology.

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