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17 Behaviors to Avoid (to Prevent Vocal Hoarseness)

If your job requires the use of your voice (and really whose job doesn’t?), you may not be able to perform at your peak ability with a hoarse voice.  Nearly all of us use our voice in our daily routine: executives, teachers, speakers, sales men and women, shop foremen, nurses, lawyers, doctors.  Taking care of your voice on and off the job and is very important so that your voice will be available to you at all times. 

Vocal hoarseness occurs for a variety of reasons.  In this video I give you 17 reasons with explanations of vocal abuse that may cause hoarseness or vocal fatigue (and they are preventable).

  1. Coughing/Throat clearing 

When you cough or clear your throat, you are slamming your vocal cords together very hard.  Doing this enough times will create swollen cords.  When you increase the size of your vocal cords, the vocal sound will be different.  If you cough or clear your throat as a nervous habit, you can learn a technique that doesn’t harm the vocal cords. 

2. Grunting (as in weight lifting)

If you lift weights on a regular basis, you may be abusing your vocal cords. People who lift weights abruptly squeeze their vocal cords together with a lot of force and then grunt. This activity, repeated over time, may damage the vocal cords because the slamming together of the cords can cause a callous to build up, thus changing the mass of the vocal cords. This may result in a change in pitch and/or create vocal hoarseness.

3. Prolonged speaking 

If you speak nonstop in addition to abusing your cords in another way (like speaking with excess tension or speaking at a high pitch), your voice will tire and even go away completely. 

4. Talking in noisy environments 

We all tend to speak louder in noisy environments and frequently speak at a higher pitch when talking loudly.  This combination hurts the vocal cords.

5. Talking with excessive tension 

Imagine holding a tight fist all day.  What do you think your hand will feel like at the end of the day?  Tired?  Sore?  This is what happens to your voice when too much tension is present.

6. Smoking cigarettes/marijuana

This one should be obvious…the smoke that passes through the vocal cords on their way to your lungs is extremely drying to the entire vocal tract.  If you smoke, quit! 

7. Speaking/singing in smoky environments

Second hand smoke has been shown to hurt people almost as much as taking puffs yourself.  If you have to speak or sing in smoky environments, be sure to drink plenty of water.

8. Drinking alcohol

Alcohol is dehydrating and will rob you of your fluids.  See the next point on drinking water.

9. Not drinking enough water

Most experts recommend 8-10 glasses to stay well hydrated and keep your vocal performance edge!

10. Inadequate breath support

Good breath support is essential when it comes to voice projection and maintaining good vocal health.  Make sure you are using diaphragmatic support and not shallow breathing. Poor breathing technique is a common problem among speakers.

11. Reverse phonation

To do this you must be speaking while inhaling.  Think of gasping or certain types of sighing or even heavy sleeping.  Some kids may talk like this for fun, too!  There may be an occupation that may use reverse phonation such as a clown.  But, it isn’t a good practice over the long term.

12. Abusive laughter

Too high of a pitch, laughing with reverse phonation, or too loudly are the things that people can do wrong while laughing.

13. Yelling/Excessive habitual loudness

Yelling, like throat clearing and coughing, slams the vocal cords together.  Additionally, most of us increase our pitch at the same time.  This combination is hard on the vocal cords and over time, will result in hoarseness.  Speaking too loudly over time will also hurt your vocal cords.

14. Inappropriate high/low pitch

If you speak with a pitch that is too high or too low from the optimal place in your pitch range, you will experience hoarseness.  This problem is common and stems from individuals who desire a different pitch from what is natural to them.

15. Habitual “Loud Talker”

If you speak too loudly all of the time, you are going to experience vocal fatigue.

16. Hard glottal attacks

The habit of building up pressure below the vocal cords and releasing the air abruptly on words that begin with vowels is called hard glottal attacks. Say “I” sharply and forcefully and then say “I” with a silent “h” in front of the “I.” Do you hear the difference between these two sounds? When the vocal cords are chronically brought together forcibly, the result is hoarseness.  Try to use a soft onset instead to prevent the force of hard glottal attacks.

17. Excessive speaking during an upper respiratory infection

Since I was talking previously about coughing and throat clearing, it is highly likely that you are experiencing a cold.  If so, it could mean that there is excessive mucous drainage which adds to the irritation of the vocal cords.  This is a good time to take a rest from your speaking.  Your vocal cords will thank you!

If you are hoarse and still not sure why, schedule an appointment with a physician or an Ears, Nose and Throat Specialist to find out if there is another explanation.

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About the Author Lynda Stucky

Lynda Stucky coaches mid-senior level executives on using their speech and voice effectively to establish credibility, position themselves within their company, and enhance their reputation as a topic authority. She provides training through one-on-one coaching and online courses to reduce foreign accents, “redd-up” regional accents, and teach speech and voice branding for image control. She is President of ClearlySpeaking, and is a certified and licensed speech-language pathologist. She is the author of "Voice Branding for Executives: How to Align Your Speech, Language, and Voice Skills with Your Professional Goals." Her background in speech pathology offers unique skills for dealing with professional communication skills in the corporate world. She believes communication skills should not hold anyone back from achieving personal and professional goals.

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