What’s happened to my voice during lockdown?
Is your throat feeling a little achy and sore or is your voice sounding tired and hoarse after you’ve spent a long day in the home office?
If the answer is yes, you are not alone.
Sam and her speech therapy colleagues are finding that a number of patients, friends and colleagues are reporting recent symptoms of voice strain. Something they’ve not previously suffered with.
Could this be related to our new socially distanced normal?
How does voice strain occur?
Speech, for most of us, is such a natural thing to do that we rarely think about how those sounds come about and what’s going on inside us to allow it to happen. But like many bodily actions and functions, a healthy voice relies on a set of muscles within our throat and respiratory system.
These muscles, in normal use, hold the right amount of tension to control the air flow and change the pitch and resonance of your voice – that’s the power with which you’re able to project sound.
These muscles, as any others in your body, require attention to keep them healthy and strong. Exertion, particularly over a prolonged period of time, can cause them to become tight, to tire more easily and even become damaged. If this happens, other throat muscles are recruited to help out, often causing voice strain to develop.
Why have we seen an increase in this condition during lockdown?
If you spend your days going to an office or workplace, speaking to people at close range and talking on the phone occasionally your voice is experiencing normal service; a daily pattern that it is used to.
Lockdown has changed that pattern.
It’s forced us to embrace video calling, often requiring louder and more enunciated speech to make ourselves heard above numerous other participants. It’s forced us to stand further from the person we’re talking to in the street and even wear a mask so that we need to project the words we’re saying further and louder.
And it’s caused a level of stress and emotion that in itself can cause tension in the throat.
Left unchecked these “lockdown” effects could add up to ongoing vocal problems, at the very least causing discomfort and inconvenience in day to day communications.
So what can I do to protect my voice?
Of course, if your job involves working from home and dialling into countless calls you can’t suddenly decide you won’t be participating. Instead, you need to become more aware of how your throat is feeling, how your voice is sounding and find strategies and techniques to help.
Try these for starters:
- Stay well hydrated and reduce alcohol or caffeine intake as this can lead to vocal cord irritation.
- Try to schedule breaks between calls where possible and if your voice needs a rest in the evening allow it to have one.
- Reduce background noise as much as practical so you’re not having to raise your voice more than necessary. A headset can help with this and minimise the feeling of needing to raise your voice too.
- If you are already hoarse do not whisper, this can cause more damage. Instead speak using a ‘confidential’ voice quality – the quietest you can be without going speaking in a forced whisper. Communicate via instant messaging or email where possible.
- Think ergonomics. Office workers tend to understand the importance of sitting well from the perspective of back and neck health, but did you know that good posture can support vocal health too? So, sit up straight with your feet flat on the floor and you’ll naturally be able to project your voice better.
- Warm your voice up gently before you start calls by humming or creating an ‘Oooo’ sound with your lips while simultaneously blowing and ‘ooo’ing.
- Try our 1 Minute Voice WarmUp app to give you confidence with your voice and learn exercises to help you keep your voice strong and healthy.
It is true that the health of your voice reflects your general health and wellbeing, and with routines all over the place, recent months have taken their toll on many of us. It may be that your weakened voice is simply a sign that you need to start looking after yourself, eat your five a day and make sure you get a good night’s sleep. It certainly won’t do any harm.
You know best
In the end, you are best placed to know whether your throat and voice are feeling and sounding ‘normal’. If you have concerns about persistent hoarseness or discomfort or a change in your voice ‘quality’ please don’t be afraid to speak to your GP or medical practitioner.
They may wish to refer you to an Ear, Nose and Throat team for a nasendoscopy (visualisation of the larynx). That way they can check that nothing untoward is going on. Following this you may be referred to a Speech and Language Therapist who specialises in voice for further assessment and management to help you regain your voice quality and control once again.
If you have questions about this or anything else related to vocal health why not get in touch?