Keeping Your Throat Happy This Winter

By Madge Slack

Winter can be both a magical and terrible time of year, but let’s face it, no one looks cute when they’re sick. The constant hacking, the chain smoker voice, the sneezing and worst of all, laryngitis. Everyone needs to talk, no matter what your major is. Not only does it not sound good when your vocal folds don’t function well, but these can be indicators of a bigger problem.

How much do you know about how the human body produces sound? Essentially, sound comes from your vocal folds which rub against each other in your throat creating sounds. Those folds are coated with a mucosal membrane called the epithelium. The epithelium is what gets dried out in cold conditions. It could also become dry when you live in an environment that has an inversion for several months out of the year. When your vocal folds get dry, it decreases your speaking ability and it can make your voice raspy.

“Basically the vibration isn’t even,” said David Schmidt, the vocal head of the musical theatre department at the University of Utah.

Laryngitis is a different story. It is swelling of the vocal folds and sometimes the whole throat which prevents them from creating sound. It is a symptom of abuse on the vocal folds which might be caused by yelling.

When you get sick or injure your vocal folds, they create more mucus to protect the damaged area. That is why your throat feels thick and you have difficulty swallowing.

Doesn’t winter sound like so much fun? Never fear, there are ways to prevent these things. Unfortunately, like with hangovers, there isn’t a magical cure. However, you can minimize the symptoms and even prevent sickness with good vocal health.

What is good vocal health? It can be encompassed in one word according to Schmidt: hydration. The key to happy vocal folds and a lovely voice is lots of water.

Naturally, you should drink plenty of water every day, although, there is controversy over how much is enough. Schmidt also recommends a humidifier at night to give your vocal folds a boost while you sleep. Lastly, be sure to cover your mouth when you’re outside or at least breathe through your nose as “it warms up the air,” according to Schmidt.

What should you do if you already have a scratchy throat? Well, it’s never too late to start hydrating, so grab some water. If you don’t like water, they make fancy cups that trick your brain into thinking you are drinking juice. You can also drink warm water with honey and lemon in it to soothe your throat. Schmidt’s secret trick: If you are a singer you can “stick a gummy bear to the back of your teeth to get some sugar in your throat for singing outside.” Otherwise, gets lots of sleep and don’t spend too much time yelling. Your vocal folds will thank you, and you’ll even be able to hear it.

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