How’s that you say? Taking care of your vocal health


NOTE: This is the first post in a two-part article. Stay tuned next week for part two!

Have you had your flu shot yet?

Ours is an unusual industry in so many ways. How we deal with minor illness is one of them. Most people, if they have a cold, they still come into work and tough it out (unless they work for an especially enlightened employer). But the last thing anyone wants a voice actor to do is come in and spread a throat infection to the rest of the studio and VO community.

If you record at home, it’s less of an issue to others. But vocal health is of course still a major issue for you as talent. Many people pay too little attention to their vocal health until something starts going awry.

At EdgeStudio.com you’ll find a lot of vocal health tips, so rather than repeat them all here, we’ll include links to some of them, and a variety of other authoritative sites, at the end of this 2-part article.

Meanwhile we’d like to add some fundamental thoughts that bear repetition or elaboration, and a few things that may have escaped your attention.

Important: We are not medical experts and cannot give medical advice. If you have any question or concern about your health or any symptom, consult your doctor without delay.

1. Hydration, hydration, hydration.

There are two schools of thought regarding this. According to the Institute of Medicine (by way of the Mayo Clinic), men need roughly three quarts per day (13 8-oz cups), while women need about 2.2 quarts (9 cups) of fluid. Few people come anywhere near that, and those numbers are just the “adequate intake.” Your need may vary by weight, activity, etc. All forms of fluid intake qualify towards the total, including the water content of foods. However, voice artists should of course remember that alcoholic and caffeine beverages can actually tend to dehydrate you. (Whether or not the dehydration effect is significant, alcohol and coffee work against peak VO performance in other ways.)

However, some sources caution against drinking too much water – that even the 2-3 quart recommendation may be excessive. Whether or not there is absolute “proof,” may depend on the particular activity involved. Voice acting and marathon running are very different things. But we do understand that it is possible to drink more than your kidneys can handle, and excessive fluid intake can affect your blood and its chemistry (e.g. sodium levels).

You may have read that yellow urine indicates dehydration. But that may not be the most reliable indicator, since the color could be caused by food additives, certain foods, medications and vitamin supplements.

Advocates of relative moderation suggest that thirst might be the best gauge of how much to drink. Some chronically dehydrated people don’t automatically feel that sense of thirst, but will if brought to mind.

So that would seem a safe recommendation: Remember to ask yourself, “Am I thirsty?” throughout the day. In addition to the hydration issue, it might also help you lose some weight; people often mistake thirst for hunger.

In addition to being good for your vocal chords and the rest of your respiratory tract, hydration also helps maintain your immune system. (Could that be the secret ingredient in chicken soup?) Body chemistry needs water to work, and the right amount of fluids helps keep the chemistry in balance.

Note: Some people swear by some additive or other in water. For example slippery elm, lemon, green tea, fennel tea, vinegar (?). Perhaps, but be wary. For example, most green teas contain caffeine, and slippery elm may not be appropriate with problematic blood pressure. Some people seem to be more susceptible to some factors (e.g., caffeine) than other people. If any doubt, ask your doctor or pharmacist.

2. Maintain proper humidity in your environment.

That’s usually 30% to 50%. (You can get a hydrometer at the hardware store.) Low humidity dries out your throat and exposes you to respiratory infection. Too-high humidity can be bad for your dwelling and promote growth of mold, mites and bacteria – all potential allergens that complicate vocal well-being.

There are various types of humidifiers. Whichever type you might get, be sure to read and understand its instructions.

We remember one pro’s tale about her sinusitis disappearing whenever she went skiing. On returning home, her sinusitis returned. She figured it was the activity and cold air. But it turned out to be her apartment’s drum humidifier. She had thought those tablets that came with it were for softening the water! (Her water was already soft, so she rarely used them.) Turns out they’re a disinfectant. She became more careful about changing the water, ultimately got rid of the unit, and – no more sinusitis.

Next week, we’ll continue with a look at some other factors affecting vocal health and your overall physical ability to perform. Meanwhile, enjoy some more turkey soup.

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