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Winter Vocal Care: Tips for Keeping Your Voice Healthy During Colder Months

As winter sets in and the air becomes colder and drier, it's essential to pay extra attention to our vocal health. The combination of chilly temperatures and low humidity can take a toll on our voices, leading to discomfort and potential vocal strain. I've been having this conversation a lot in recent weeks with my clients and decided it would be best to share all of my insights and tips in one place. If I didn't cover something that you have concerns or questions about, be sure to leave a comment or reach out directly.

  • Increase Moisture with a Humidifier: The winter air can be harsh on your vocal folds, robbing them of essential moisture. The same is true indoors if you use an air purifier or are breathing recycled air without allowing fresh air in from your doors or windows. Combat dryness by using a cool-mist humidifier in your living space. This will help maintain optimal humidity levels, keeping your vocal foldshydrated and prevent irritation. Here are some good options: AquaOasis, or the ROSEKM

  • Facial Steam for Added Hydration: For a more direct impact on your vocal folds, nasal passageway and sinuses, incorporate regular facial steam sessions into your routine. This not only benefits your skin but also adds moisture to your vocal folds.

Simply inhaling the warm steam through your nose can soothe and hydrate your throat and can be done through a variety of methods such as when taking a long, hot shower, standing over a freshly boiled cup of tea or bowl of water.

For a more advanced option, try the Vicks non-medicated sinus inhaler (avoid using the Vicks pads) Start out by inhaling steam for a few minutes, but no longer than 5-10 minutes. The steam can be intense and should never be inhaled while water is actively boiling. After inhaling steam for a few minutes, allow the steam to penetrate by resting for at least 10 minutes before you are intended to start speaking or using your voice.

  • Loosen Mucus with Herbal Teas: Colder months result in an accumulation of mucus in our sinuses and passageways that is looking for a way out. Support your vocal health and clarity by consuming herbal teas that aid in loosening mucus and phlegm such as mullein, nettle leaf, ginger root, and peppermint. Start your day with a warm cup and incorporate an additional 1-2 throughout and in between vocal demands.

Here are some of my favorites: Lemon Ginger, Peppermint, Mullein, Nettle

  • Use saline nasal sprays to keep your nasal passages clear, reducing the likelihood of mucus buildup affecting your vocal folds. In addition to herbal teas, inhaling steam and increasing hydration, clearing your nasal passages is a MUST if you struggle with congestion, most especially during cold winter months. The increased use of heating systems and more time spent indoors means breathing in recycled air that is full of floating particles, dust, and allergens that build up in our sinuses and need to be cleared out. If you've never used a saline nasal spray before, now is the time to start!

You can try the Neti pot method OR simplify the process and use the tried and true Arm&Hammer Simply Saline Nasal Spray. Definitely watch a YouTube video before your first attempt because it can and will get messy.

  • Keep your body hydrated with water, and consider a mouth spray: Drinking plenty of water is crucial for overall health and vocal well-being. Drinking herbal tea and incorporating fresh fruits and veggies that contain water will help, but don't mistake drinking any liquid (coffee, milk, juices, sodas) for the actual intake of H2O. Drinking clean, filtered water is a non-negotiable. Keep a water bottle handy, add lemon or cucumber slices, and consider using a xylitol mouth spray or mints throughout the day to keep your mouth and articulators feeling nice and moist.

  • Open Windows for Fresh Air in the Morning: Despite the cold, take advantage of the crisp morning air by opening your windows. Fresh air rejuvenates your home and allows for new oxygen to circulate your space and your lungs, instead of constantly breathing in recycled, stale air. This is a ventilation practice in German known as Lüften. Read more about air ventilation in the winter here.

  • Incorporate a Warm-Up Routine: Just like any other muscle, your vocal folds benefit from a warm-up routine. Begin your day with gentle vocal exercises to prepare your voice for the demands of the day ahead. This can include deep breathing, humming, lip trills, and gentle scales.

  • Prioritize Vocal Rest: Adequate vocal rest is paramount, especially during the winter months. Give your voice a break when needed, and avoid straining your vocal folds with excessive talking or shouting.

  • Tend to Mental and Physical Health: Recognize the connection between mental and physical well-being. Manage stress through relaxation techniques like deep breathing or meditation, and make sure you are getting enough sleep and winding down earlier as the sun sets. A healthy body contributes to a healthy voice.

  • Keep a Vocal Symptoms Log: Maintain a log of your vocal symptoms throughout the day. Note any discomfort, hoarseness, or changes in your voice. Include any new changes to your diet, sleeping patterns, medications, or mood. This log can be a valuable tool for identifying patterns and adjusting your vocal care routine accordingly.

One final note about vocal health and hygiene: if you are ever experiencing symptoms of pain, irritation or discomfort that go beyond the average cold weather and dry air conditions, please seek professional guidance by a doctor, ENT or speech pathologist. Do not try to push through severe symptoms; you might end up doing more harm than good.

Looking for vocal guidance and support in 2024? Consider my Voice + Speech Makeover Package.

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