Water, water everywhere: Your body needs an adequate amount of fluid in order to function properly. The average adult that is physically inactive requires about 2 liters of fluid a day just to compensate for the loss of fluid through sweat, urination and moisture lost with each exhalation. Physical activity increases this loss.
Hydration is important for good voice quality. The more elastic the tissues of the vocal folds are, the easier it is to make them vibrate when you speak, and elasticity is dependent on moisture content. Also, the secretions in your throat are important for clearing materials. Your paranasal sinuses produce about a liter a day of mucus, and your salivary gland produce another liter of saliva. When you’re dehydrated, the mucus becomes thicker, does not move as quickly through your sinuses and throat, and can become stagnant. This predisposes you to infections, and can feel like a dryness in the nose, throat, mouth, and voice. Difficulty clearing secretions from your voice (throat clearing) can also be an indication of thick mucus and dehydration.
Pushing fluids for internal hydration: Drinking 8-10 glasses of water or non-caffeinated liquids per day is the usual recommendation. Some of this is contained in the foods you eat, but it is important to also drink enough to stay hydrated. The easiest way to tell if you’re hydrated is if you “pee pale.” The body gets rid of any excess water, which dilutes the urine. Certain medical conditions such as high blood pressure, renal failure, and heart failure require special balancing of fluid levels to prevent complications. Discuss your fluid intake with your primary care physician if you have these conditions before making any changes. Alcohol, caffeine, and certain medications such as antihistamines and diuretics can cause dehydration, and should be compensated for with additional fluid intake.
Nasal spray and steaming for surface hydration: You may also benefit from thinning your nasal secretions with a nasal saline spray (salt water spray for the nose). Some brands include “Ocean,” “Ayr,” and “Deep Sea.” These may be used as often as you like, but it is usually recommended to use them at least 3-4 times a day. Be sure to gently place the nozzle towards the front of your nose, not towards the middle or deep inside the nose. Steaming your sinuses and throat can also get moisture directly to the tissues. A hot shower is one way to get steam to your voice. Placing a towel over your head at the sink with the water on hot is another way. Not only will this loosen nasal secretions, it will make a significant difference in the elasticity of the vocal folds.
Since most Americans spend over 90% of their time indoors, dry air from air conditioning and heaters tends to further dry your secretions. A humidifier in the bedroom is helpful in humidifying the air, particularly in the winter. You only need to use the humidifier during sleeping hours so the humidity should not exceed 50%. Too much humidity all the time can promote fungal and mold growth causing allergies. The reservoir should be cleaned often.
Eugen Grabscheid MD Voice Center
Department of Otolaryngology –
Head & Neck Associates
5 East 98th Street
New York NY 10029