Our vocal cords are sensitive, and without proper care, they can be damaged. The singer Adele had surgery in her throat for vocal cords and retired to the countryside to recuperate. This was done to protect the chords from the pollution and smog that is inherent in a city’s atmosphere.
Air pollution isn’t good for anyone’s throat, but particularly for singers. Smog is a result of gases and particles that react with sunlight. Smog particulates include dust, smoke, pollen, and sand.
The American Lung Association states that around 175 million people or 58% of the population in America live with high pollution levels. Ground-level ozone adds to smog and aggravates asthma, irritates lungs, making it difficult to breathe. Inflammation from breathing can scar lung tissue.
Many singers learned it the hard way that poor quality air can lead to good vocalists sounding like amateurs. Bono of U2 fame didn’t perform in Las Vegas during the band’s tour, because of the dusty and dry air in the environment.
Research has shown that pollution affects the ability of birds to sing. Researchers from Cornel University found that when black-capped chickadees were exposed to polychlorinated biphenyls, they would lose their ability to sing their mating songs properly. These birds inhabited the area around New York’s Hudson River, near a closed power plant that had dumped more than 500 kilos of PCBs into the river. This led to the birds singing off key as their hormone receptors were affected by the exposure.
What can cause voice problems?
Problems in the voice can be caused by a multitude of factors that include poor air quality. The factors are:
- Vocal overuse or misuse.
- Upper respiratory infection.
- Cancer of larynx.
- Gastroesophageal reflux or GERD.
- Growth on vocal folds or laryngeal papillomatosis.
- Psychological trauma
- Neurological disease.
- Dry climates.
What are the primary environmental hazards?
Three environmental hazards affect a singer’s vocal cords. They are:
- Chemicals – Chemicals in fog or smog can affect a person’s vocal performance.
- Low Humidity – Moisture in the air is necessary to keep mucous membranes lubricated. These membranes surround the vocal cords, and dryness will have an adverse effect.
- Airborne dust particles – Ambient pollution and dust particles that come from props or costumes.
Vegas throat is a condition that appears in singers working in Las Vegas. The condition is a chronic, hoarse and gravelly sounding voice caused by dryness and irritation while leading to changes in vocal quality. Dryness, air pollution, dust, and pollen are causes of this which worsen when accompanied by dry, hot winds.
Protecting your Voice
There are steps you can take to protect your voice and still sing when you need to.
- Optimizing quality of indoor air.
- Use clean filters on air conditioners and run it on recycled air.
- Keep windows and doors well sealed and closed.
- Try using an air purifier that can filer small particulate matter, remove toxins and kill viruses, mold or bacteria.
- Certain essential oils can also help in improving respiratory health.
- Limiting exposure
- Limiting your exposure goes a long way in keeping your vocal cords in good condition.
- Stay indoors.
- Use N95 masks that are fitted well to your face.
- Track air quality in your area. This can be done through various apps.
- You can use a humidifier at home if you are in a dry and dusty place. This is crucial in winter as well. A humidity of thirty percent is recommended.
- Fuel the body
- Say hydrated by drinking lots of water. Try 8 ounces for every hour you are up and get 100 to 120 ounces in a day. Hydration is important as the dry condition worsens an inflamed throat.
- Rinse your sinuses.
- Detoxify and eat well. Foods that are anti-inflammatory or are high in anti-oxidants will be beneficial. Nuts, turmeric, garlic, ginger, blueberries, pecans, goji berries, and kidney beans are excellent options.
- Limit drinks that have caffeine or alcohol. Such drinks make the larynx dry, and the vocal cords fold. They also dehydrate the body. Alcohol can irritate mucous membranes in the throat causing problems while singing.
- Maintain voice
- If you are taking singing lessons, your teacher will help you with exercises to maintain your voice and proper vocals. New York residents can opt for Manhattan private singing lessons and have a professional take care of your singing skills and voice management.
- Use semi-occluded exercise and sing on a V or Z. A lip trill will also work.
- Vocalize through a straw while promoting healthy fold closure and healing.
The throat can be affected by many things, not just the climate, and a healthy lifestyle, as well as wise choices, can help you keep your voice strong.
- Smoke is bad, so smoking or inhaling second-hand smoke must be avoided.
- Avoid spicy food. It is the most common trigger for GERD which may cause problems for the voice.
- Eat foods to keep the mucous membranes in the throat in good condition. Try vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, along with items that are rich in Vitamins, E, A and C.
- Get rest and avoid physical fatigue.
- Keep away from gargles and mouthwash that have alcohol or strong chemicals. They can irritate the throat.
- Use your voice in a wise manner and try not to overuse it.
- Do not speak or sing when your voice is tired or hoarse.
- Rest when you are sick. Sickness puts additional strain on your voice.
- Do not regularly use the extremes of your vocal range, like whispering or screaming. This can stress the voice.
- Good breathing techniques are very helpful. Support voice with deep breaths from the chest. Without a supporting breath, the voice can be strained.
- Do not cradle the phone while talking as it can stress neck muscles.
- Voice therapy is also a good option to care for your voice.
Inhaling toxic pollutants can affect voices, and ingested substances that produce neurolaryngologic effects can impair the voice too. It is important to take care when you are in a climate that can negatively impact your voice, especially dry, dusty and polluted environments.