Whether you are a singer, a public speaker, a teacher, or a parent screaming at the top of your lungs in mere frustration or out of enjoyment and celebration, your voice is an important and irreplaceable instrument that’s uniquely owned by you. Your unique sound is produced by two bands of smooth muscle tissue located in the larynx otherwise known as the vocal cords or the ‘voice box’. The vocal cords serve as the passageway to the lungs and close whenever you take a swallow to prevent particles from entering the lungs. When air passes through the cords from the lungs the cords rapidly vibrate to produce sound.
Vocal health involves total body wellness. Changes in your normal voice such as raspiness or hoarseness, difficulty swallowing or coughing may be induced by stress, health conditions, medications, environmental irritants, vocal abuse and misuse, or dehydration. Here are some pointers to help with dry mouth, throat and cough.
1. Listen to your body and rest.
If you are feeling tired, stressed, illness or your voice is hoarse and raspy put aside time for rest and rejuvenation. If you are on the road and have gigs lined up that demand vocal strength and endurance, take vocal rest breaks in between gigs. Allow yourself to be silent. Allowing the vocal muscle to rest assist in its healing process.
In addition, sleep is fundamental to your health and it is important to make your health a priority. When improving your sleep consider your sleep duration, sleep quality, and sleep timing. It is recommended by The American Academy of Sleep Medicine for adults (18 years old and older) to achieve 7 or more hours of sleep. If you’re getting less than 7 hours of sleep, consider extending your sleep time by 30 minutes until you achieve 7 hours or more per day. Understand that sleep plays an important role in your health and performance. Allowing yourself adequate time to sleep helps in reducing stress. Rest isn’t about being lazy. Rest is the necessary time to allow your body to heal and recover. So, don’t feel guilty for allowing yourself time off to rest.
Hydrated vocal cords help in its optimal function to produce your unique voice. Water makes up about 60 – 70% of your body’s weight and is necessary for your survival. Water helps to digest food through saliva and gastric secretions, eliminate toxic waste, lubricates joints and cushions organs and tissues. Symptoms of dehydration may include:
– Increased thirst
– Excessive clearing of your throat
– Dry mouth
– Dark yellow urine
– Dry or scratchy throat
Hydration is a consistent daily process. Throughout the day you experience water loss through urination, sweat and bowel movements. And, drinking water before your performance or speaking engagement is not enough to keep you well hydrated. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine makes the following recommendation regarding an adequate daily fluid intake:
– Men: About 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of fluids daily
– Women: About 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) of fluids daily
Water consumption can be achieved through the foods and drinks you eat. Examples of foods with high water content are celery, melon, cabbage, grapes and zucchini. Also, drinking certain herbs and teas not only coat and soothe the throat but can help with hydration minus the added sugars. To help with keeping yourself hydrated throughout the day start with a drinking schedule. For example, drink a glass of water upon awakening and 30 minutes before and after meals.
3. Use Natural Herbs instead of over-the-counter (OTC) medications
Over the years working in a retail pharmacy as a pharmacist as well as being a singer and vocal artist, many people look for their problems to be solved with the use of OTC medications. The initial approach most take when it comes to a dry mouth, throat or cough usually includes the use of numbing agents, menthol cough drops and anti-cough agents. Steer clear of the use of numbing agents (i.e. Cepacol) and menthol cough drops (i.e. Halls) for their use usually worsen your problem. Anti-cough agents such as Delsum cover the underlying issue which may be dryness or a hidden medical issue that needs further evaluation.
Another approach people have tried is the use of simple teas (i.e. green tea) or lemon and honey mixture. What I recommend is the power of herbs that are capable of reducing inflammation and soothe the drying throat. I recommend the use of herbs such as marshmallow root, licorice, slippery elm, and burdock root to coat and soothe the dry mouth and throat. Slippery elm comes available as lozenges which are great to have available in moments when short in time or not wanting to consume it as a tea. Another herbal option recommended to have readily accessible for use is a gargle and mouth rinse called Gargle Away Advanced Throat Care available on Amazon.com. Or, sip on an herbal tea throughout the day called Traditional Medicinals Throat Coat. I prefer the lemon-flavored Traditional Medicinals Tea Throat Coat Lemon. You may create a free client profile to have access to professional-grade herbal ingredients and discover the recommended herbs various formulations.
4. Dry mouth, throat and cough caused by health conditions or medications
OTC medications such as antihistamines (especially 1st generation antihistamines) and decongestants can worsen dry mouth and throat. Antihistamines such as Benadryl include side effects of dry mouth and drowsiness and should be avoided. However, if you experience seasonal allergies and/or travel to different areas of the country I recommend the use of Zyrtec, Claritin, or Allegra to prevent worsening of allergies and the post-nasal drip that often triggers the cough reflex. Keep in mind to be consistent with hydration throughout the day to counteract the dryness that could be experienced with the use of these medications.
Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, diuretics, anti-diabetic medications, etc. could induce cough or dry mouth and throat. The use of an ACE inhibitor has a side effect of cough associated with it. Therefore, if you are experiencing a dry, nagging cough and is on an ACE inhibitor I recommend to consult with your physician to consider a change in medication.
Make sure to keep your blood sugar under control throughout the day. Experiencing higher than normal blood glucose levels triggers the body’s natural response to get rid of sugar and one way is through urination. Moreover, the use of certain anti-diabetic medications promotes urination in order to control blood glucose levels. The use of diuretics to treat high blood pressure promotes urination for the removal of excess salt and fluid. Remember, with excessive urination comes dehydration. This is not an all-inclusive list nor a plan to self diagnose or to treat any health condition. Consult with your physician for further evaluation.
5. Monitor your diet and lifestyle
Vocal health involves total body wellness! Minimizing the chances of having a dry mouth/throat and cough is complete body care and wellness. From the use of proper vocal techniques to the foods you eat, the amount and quality of rest, environmental exposures and exercise play a role in throat health and vocal wellness. When using incorrect breathing techniques and straining as you sing or speak are factors that can eventually hurt your vocal cords and lead to problems. If you consume the standard American diet which is loaded in carbs, salt and fats can lead to dehydration or worse, undesirable health conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, chronic inflammation, arthritis, etc. Air quality also needs to be considered when it comes to vocal wellness. In dryer environments, consider the use of a humidifier and keep yourself constantly hydrated. Replace your air filters with a filter approved to remove allergens, dust, molds, etc. and change out on its recommended schedule. And, exercise! Exercise for your cardiovascular health which ties into your performance and serves as an avenue for stress reduction.
Let’s not neglect the mindset! Use the power of positive self talk to manage emotions and mindset. Breath and minimize your stress through rest, empowering thoughts and relaxation.
Remember, whenever you decide to add a natural herb or OTC medications to your regimen always consult with your doctor. Some herbs and OTC medications may interact with other medications.
Mary L. Washington
Pharmacist | Voiceover Artist | Singer