There are plenty of things you can do to keep your voice in tip top condition
So many lifestyle factors can make a difference to your voice, from the environment you live and work in and how you look after yourself. A healthy larynx is well hydrated and lubricated with a thin wet mucus that is similar to what you feel if you touch the inside of your cheek. To stay hydrated and lubricated it is recommended that you drink at least 1.5 litres of water a day. Factors like working in air conditional offices and using certain medications may be extra drying. Using a nebuliser, breathing in a weak saline solution (0.9%) has proven useful for some people. Steaming can also be a way to instantly hydrate the vocal folds but should be used cautiously. Ensure the steam is not too hot and that you allow yourself 15 minutes to rest after steaming before using your voice.
Warming up before singing is like stretching your muscles before working out in the gym. It is an important part of healthy voice use. If you were to go to the gym and start lifting heavy weights for an hour without warming up and then go home without cooling down, chances are the next day you would feel a lot of aching from the muscles you have used. Singing is also a muscular act. The co-ordinaton of the muscles that help us breath in and out (airflow), the vocal folds (phonation) and other moveable vocal tract muscles (tongue, soft palate, jaw, lips ), the muscles we use to stand or sit, the position of your entire body can help or hinder the vocal task at hand. Postural alignment is really important and checking yourself over to release any unwanted muscle tension before you sing, will help you become a flexible co-ordinated singer. After singing, especially after more intense vocal demands, it is healthy to do some cool down exercises (such as The Accent Method), to help reset the muscles used back to neutral, to also prevent habitual tensions keeping your larynx in a certain posture you may use for singing.
Are you able to produce a clear tone?
This is a really encouraging sign that you are producing your voice efficiently. Efficiency is key if you have a lot of vocal demands, are a professional voice user or aspire to become one in the future. If your speaking or singing voice is breathy, croaky or husky this can indicate a problem. Can you reduce the breathiness, croak or huskiness? If not, you might need the expertise of an ENT doctor or Speech Therapist. Not all such problems are physical. Feeling stressed, emotional, anxious or carrying tensions in other places in the body can all affect how you sound.
Are you putting your voice at risk?
Avoid trying to talk in very noisy places, like over very loud music. You may not feel any discomfort doing this at the time but have you ever woken the next morning, gone to speak and found your voice has deepened, become croaky or in severe cases gone completely? Speaking loudly, over-singing or singing too forcefully can also leave the vocal folds swollen and unable to work properly. The vocal folds do not register pain and often will recover in a couple of days. However, if this behaviour becomes a regular pattern and you continue to use your voice when your vocal folds are swollen, they can form protective little bumps, causing baby nodes that can become nodules. Nodules are like an impact injury and will need treatment with Speech Therapy and in some cases surgery.
Throat clearing and coughing can also be harmful to the vocal folds. Of course, there are times when we are unwell and an illness will make the body cough automatically to clear your airway. However, there are also times when throat clearing has become more of a habit than a necessity. Try swallowing or huffing instead of coughing as this can sometimes alleviate the urge to cough and help break the habit.
Singers need to recognise when you need to have a rest from using your voice. If you have any pain on swallowing, speaking or singing then take a break and look after yourself. Vocal rest is an important part of speeding up your recovery. Whispering instead is not vocal rest. Vocal rest is not talking or whispering at all but instead writing things down to communicate. Be careful about using throat sprays or lozenges that have a numbing affect on throat pain, as they can lull you into a false sense of feeling recovered and see you using your voice when it actually still needs to rest. You could unintentionally make the problem worse by using your voice when it is telling you it is time to rest.