Protecting Your Voice and Avoiding Throat Trouble

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The production of the human voice involves the movement of air through the vocal cords, which are two pieces of tissue located within the larynx. These cords vibrate when they come into contact, allowing air from the lungs to pass through. This vibration produces sound, then shaped by the throat, tongue, and lips, resulting in speech or singing. However, issues can arise when the vocal cords cannot move or vibrate properly. This can lead to a rough, breathy, weak, strained, abnormally high or low-pitched voice. Vocal problems may also cause throat tension, pain, or a sensation of lumping in the throat while swallowing.

Voice and Throat

The vocal sound is generated by the activation of the vocal folds, commonly called the vocal “cords.” However, it is essential to note that these are not cords but mucous membrane folds. Situated in the larynx, the vocal folds work by uniting and vibrating numerous times per second in response to the exhaled air, similar to how crickets’ wings rub together to create sound. A warm and pleasant voice can be produced by adopting proper breathing techniques and ensuring that the folds come together gently. 

On the other hand, improper breathing, forcefully slamming the vocal folds together, or subjecting them to harsh conditions within the larynx can result in a strained voice that is not so pleasant to listen to, difficult to hear, and uncomfortable for the speaker.

The vocal system also includes,

  • Tongue — Forms vowel sounds
  • Diaphragm — Gives breath support for singing/speaking
  • Trachea & bronchi — Air passageways from lungs
  • Lips & jaw — Forms different consonants
  • Larynx muscles — Tunes vocal fold tension
  • Soft palate — Responsible for nasal resonance

When the whole vocal system aligns and operates correctly, one avoids vocal strain and converses smoothly. Even if one of the parts is at fault, it throws the entire system off balance. 

Common Vocal and Throat Issues

Strep Throat

Strep throat, caused by streptococcal bacteria, is commonly found on the throat and tonsils. Strep throat is highly contagious and has an incubation period of two to five days. A doctor can perform a physical examination and throat culture to diagnose strep throat. Treatment involves antibiotics, and most cases clear up within three to seven days, although it can take up to two weeks for complete healing. It is crucial to have strep throat diagnosed early, as the illness can be unknowingly spread before obvious symptoms appear. 

  • The back of the throat is reddened
  • A fever that’s over 101ºF
  • Painful swallowing
  • Noticeable white and/or yellow spots on the back of the throat
  • Swollen tonsils and lymph nodes

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a prevalent sleep disorder marked by intermittent cessation and resumption of breathing during sleep. The predominant type is obstructive sleep apnea, where the airway is obstructed due to the relaxation of throat muscles. Sleep apnea can manifest through snoring, excessive daytime sleepiness, insomnia, morning headaches, dry mouth, and other symptoms.

Acid Reflux (GERD)

Acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or heartburn, is a prevalent condition that causes pain and discomfort in the upper chest. In some cases, it may extend to the neck and throat. The symptoms arise when stomach acids escape through the lower oesophagal sphincter, which connects the stomach to the throat. Seeking treatment for acid reflux can involve consulting an ENT physician or other specialists like gastroenterologists.


The pharynx, located behind the mouth and soft palate, is a passage for food, liquids, and air. Inflammation of the pharynx, known as pharyngitis, often leads to painful swallowing. Pharyngitis can sometimes occur alongside laryngitis. Rest, adequate fluid intake, and humid air are recommended to alleviate pharynx inflammation.


Impaired swallowing function is a frequent consequence of ageing, as the throat muscles gradually relax over time. However, various other factors can contribute to this condition. 

The process of normal swallowing is complex, involving several stages: oral preparatory, oral propulsive, pharyngeal, and oesophagal. In cases where any of these phases are compromised due to infection, disease, or dysfunction, swallowing liquids and foods becomes challenging and, at times, painful. Additionally, blockages may occur when food becomes lodged in the throat, leading to choking when fluids mistakenly enter the airways instead of following the intended path down the throat.


Snoring results from air passing through the nose and throat, causing vibrations in the back of the tongue or soft palate. When we are awake, our muscles keep these structures from relaxing. However, during sleep, these muscles become inactive, causing the palate and tongue to become soft, collapse, and vibrate as air passes. Snoring can have adverse effects such as sleep apnea, disrupted sleep, and other complications. An ENT surgeon can offer treatments to open the airway or remove any obstructions if needed. 


Epiglottitis is a small, flap-like structure located above the larynx. Its primary function is to close when we swallow, preventing liquids and food from entering the trachea. However, it can also become swollen and inflamed due to bacterial infection. This condition becomes a medical emergency as it obstructs airflow through the windpipe. Immediate treatment is necessary to avoid oxygen deprivation, cardiac arrest, and potential fatality.

Subglottic Stenosis

Subglottic stenosis is characterized by the narrowing of the subglottis, which makes breathing difficult. The most common symptoms include noisy and troublesome breathing. This structure is located above the windpipe and below the vocal cords. Treatment is essential to widen the passage and restore normal airflow.

Thyroid Disorders

The butterfly-shaped gland, known as the thyroid gland, present just above the collarbone in the neck, is susceptible to various dysfunctions. These disorders encompass multiple conditions, including but not limited to thyroid nodules, hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, goitre, inflammation of the thyroid, and thyroid cancer. 

Tonsillitis (Acute and Chronic)

Tonsillitis, the inflammation of the tonsils, which are lymphoid tissue situated at the posterior part of the throat, can be categorized as acute or chronic. Bacterial infections like strep throat often cause acute tonsillitis and can be effectively treated with antibiotics. However, in cases of chronic or recurring tonsillitis, the removal of the tonsils through a surgical procedure called tonsillectomy may be necessary.

How to Protect Your Voice and Throat

Clean your toothbrush

One often overlooked source of infection is the toothbrush. If left overnight, it can become a problem for the throat and mouth. To ensure cleanliness, it is recommended to soak your toothbrush in a glass of hot salt water every morning before brushing your teeth. This simple step will help disinfect the toothbrush and maintain its cleanliness. 

Additionally, it is important to regularly replace your toothbrush or toothbrush head. Experts suggest replacing it every 3 to 4 months or sooner if the bristles become frayed. Storing your toothbrush upright and avoiding closed containers is also advised. Keeping your toothbrush in a dry environment can prevent the growth of microorganisms that thrive in moist conditions. 

Gargle with salt

Another effective practice is gargling with warm water and salt every night. Just a pinch of salt is sufficient. This habit is particularly beneficial during cold and flu season as it helps disinfect the mouth and throat. Gargling with salt water has been a timeless remedy, providing fast relief for sore throats when caught early. 

Honey and ginger to protect your throat

To further protect your throat, consider combining honey and ginger. After brushing your teeth in the morning, mix 3-4 ml of fresh ginger juice with 5 ml of honey and drink it. This concoction will help safeguard your throat throughout the day.

Do not smoke

It is widely recognized that smoking has the potential to result in the development of lung or laryngeal cancer. When an individual inhales primary or secondhand smoke, it travels past the vocal cords and can result in notable irritation and inflammation. Consequently, this can permanently alter the characteristics, essence, and capacity of one’s voice.

Moderate your caffeine and alcohol consumption

Regulate your intake of caffeine and alcohol. Both substances can lead to dehydration, which strains the vocal cords. To counteract this, drink a glass of water for every cup of coffee or alcoholic beverage.  

Keep the volume down

Maintain a lower volume level. Avoid shouting, screaming, excessively cheering, or talking loudly over loud noises, as these actions unnecessarily strain the vocal cords and can result in hoarseness or damage to the vocal folds.

Manage acid reflux

Take control of acid reflux. The acids from your stomach can be harmful to your throat. If you frequently experience heartburn, bloating, burping, hoarseness, a taste of sourness in your mouth upon waking up, or a sensation of a lump in the back of your throat, it may be a sign of acid reflux. Consult a specialist for guidance on how to manage and treat acid reflux.

Use your voice sparingly when you are sick

 Minimizing using your voice when it becomes hoarse from excessive use or an upper respiratory infection is advisable. Singers and professional speakers should exercise caution when experiencing hoarseness or a severe sore throat to avoid potential permanent damage to their vocal cords.

Minimize throat clearing

Reduce Throat Clearing Excessive or repetitive throat clearing can harm your vocal cords, causing hoarseness. Instead, try clearing your throat with small sips of water or swallowing to eliminate any secretions or blockages. If you frequently need to clear your throat, it may indicate an underlying medical condition such as gastroesophageal reflux disease, sinusitis, laryngopharyngeal reflux, or allergies. 

Have quiet time

Remember that your voice is not invincible. In everyday conversations, refrain from habitual yelling or screaming. Be mindful of background noise, as it may tempt you to raise your voice in loud environments, leading to potential harm over time. If you notice your throat feeling dry and tired or your voice becoming hoarse, you must pause and take a break from speaking.

Stay hydrated

It is crucial to be properly hydrated by consuming an ample amount of water (six to eight glasses) daily to reap numerous health advantages. Even when generating the most basic sound, your vocal cords vibrate at an incredibly rapid pace; therefore, ensuring hydration with water aids in the production of an adequate amount of mucus in your throat, which in turn lubricates your vocal cords. It is advisable to limit or moderate the intake of substances that lead to dehydration, such as caffeinated beverages (coffee, tea, soda) and alcohol. Additionally, sweetened or carbonated drinks do not hydrate the body as effectively as water. Remember to increase your water intake while engaging in physical exercise.

Warm up your voice

It is essential to warm up your vocal cords before using your voice for teaching, giving a speech, or singing. Engage in neck and shoulder exercises, perform lip and tongue trills, and hum and glide from low to high tones using various vocal sounds. This will help prepare your voice for optimal performance.


A warm and pleasant voice can be achieved by practising proper breathing techniques and allowing the vocal folds to come together gently. On the other hand, a strained and unpleasant voice results from poor breathing habits, forcefully slamming the vocal folds together or subjecting them to harsh conditions within the larynx. This can make it difficult to hear and painful for the speaker.


How can I protect my speaking voice?

Speaking at excessive volumes or whispering can both strain your vocal cords. Develop proper breathing techniques while singing or speaking by taking deep breaths from your chest and avoiding reliance solely on your throat. Singers and speakers often learn exercises to enhance this type of breath control.

What is good for sore throat and voice?

Antibiotics are not effective against viral infections, which are often the cause. Instead, you can alleviate symptoms like headache, fever, and sore throat by taking paracetamol, ibuprofen, or aspirin. Additionally, drinking ample water and refraining from alcohol can aid in the recovery of your voice.


The Information including but not limited to text, graphics, images and other material contained on this blog are intended for education and awareness only. No material on this blog is intended to be a substitute for professional medical help including diagnosis or treatment. It is always advisable to consult medical professional before relying on the content. Neither the Author nor Star Health and Allied Insurance Co. Ltd accepts any responsibility for any potential risk to any visitor/reader.

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