have at least adapted to the bone-chilling temps we get each
holiday season. Your vocal cords, on the other hand, would
much prefer hot and humid air to keep your voice in top
Short of moving
to the Bahamas, otolarynologist Dr. H. Steven Sims, of the
University of Illinois at Chicago, says there are simple steps
you can take to keep your vocal cords in shape, despite
Chicago’s harsh climate. The vocal cord doctor helps
“voice professionals” — including Academy Award winner
and native Chicagoan Jennifer Hudson — keep their
instruments in impeccable condition.
Sims has tips
that can go a long way in easing the strain the weather can
put on the voices of everyday Chicagoans. Sims said many
people don’t realize how often they use their voice in their
“One of our
largest groups of patients are teachers. Or, as we call them,
the largest group of voice professionals who don’t know
they’re voice professionals,” the affable doctor said with
Reed, a licensed speech therapist who works with Sims at the
Chicago Institute for Voice Care, agreed that teachers often
suffer from phonotrauma.
been slamming their vocal cords together too hard to talk,”
Potter Reed said.
Here are five
ways the average person can try to avoid vocal strain,
especially in cold weather:
1. Moisture is
key to vocal cord health
said your vocal cords need to be moist to function properly,
so any steps you can take to make the air you breathe a little
more forgiving is a good idea. Staying hydrated will keep your
entire body in better health and allow it to create more
hyaluronic acid, which naturally lubricates the vocal cords.
suggests people use a humidifier at night because most people
sleep with their mouth open. Those who want to take it a step
further can purchase an ultrasonic nebulizer, which can be
packed with saline bullets to release additional moisture into
the air they breathe.
here is to keep warmth and humidity in the body,” Potter
2. Perfume and
cologne are irritants
Try though you
may, it isn’t always possible to buy all gifts online during
the holiday rush. And a department store visit may result in a
bevy of pleasant-smelling irritants wafting your way.
spritz you with cologne or ask you to smell a perfume sample
when you’re walking through the mall,” Sims said.
cords will close to try to protect the breathing tube and keep
harsh irritants out.
or any swelling will show up in how they make the voice a
little more froggy,” Potter Reed said.
3. Create a
tropical island feel with your scarf
Sims said a lot
of the ways to protect your vocal cords are things you likely
learned in kindergarten: Wash your hands often, avoid people
who are coughing and wear a hat, gloves and a scarf when
exposed to the elements.
a scarf around your nose and mouth may keep the cold off your
skin, there’s another added benefit to this method.
your scarf around your mouth and nose helps you breathe in air
that’s not quite as cold,” Sims said. “It retains a
little humidity and is not so cold and not so dry.”
4. Cut out the
Sims, who is a
board-certified laryngologist and graduate of the Yale
University School of Medicine, said the obvious dangers of
smoking tobacco at any time of year become twofold in winter.
who go outside for a smoke break are exposing themselves to
both the cold weather and the cigarettes when they step
outside in winter,” Sims said.
Those who smoke
should make efforts to quit, or at least cut back on
cigarettes when there’s a chill in the air.
5. Take extra
precautions when you’re traveling
Part of the
difficulty in treating touring musicians is not just the
number of sets they’re singing, but their hectic schedules,
which can compound troubles, Potter Reed said.
is dry and kind of a petri dish because they’re recycling
the air. Hotel rooms are not conducive to good air, either,”
Potter Reed said. “And of course touring in itself is
humidifiers that use an upturned water bottle are a good
solution for hotel rooms, she said. And well-timed breaks
during travel can make a difference, she said.
The bottom line
is that if someone is starting to feel and sound hoarse, they
usually should give it some time before seeing a doctor, and
try some at-home remedies.
little bit of time, say a week or two, it should be getting
better,” Sims said.
But is it appropriate to ask your doctor to write a
prescription for a two-week trip to the tropics?
tell my patients that as their doctor, I should probably go
with them to supervise their care,” Sims joked.