Its probably one of the most common problems for everyone not just singers – most of us are not taking on enough water! I myself am guilty of taking a bottle of water out with me with every intention of getting my 2-3 litres of water a day and get home to find I’ve barely made a dent in it!
As we know there are so many important health related reasons to keep hydrated, but for singers it can be the difference between keeping your voice in shape or suffering on stage. Regular singing, excessive voice use, smoking, and working in dry environments all can wear away at the essential mucosal layers of the vocal folds.
The truth is if you don’t keep your body hydrated your voice will not cope, one of the ways I explain to my students about dehydration is by getting them to rub their hands together, after a while you should begin to feel the friction and as a result the heat that comes with it, now if you were to go and do that with your hands submerged in water, your hands would pass freely against each other and the affects of friction would be much less, and it is the same for your vocal folds.
Our vocal folds are incredibly delicate, they are covered in a mucosal membrane which protects them from the friction of rubbing together. When we are dehydrated or ill this membrane loses the ability to do its job affectively. Too much friction can start to damage this mucosal membrane and can result in swelling of the vocal folds, which in itself can lead to much more serious injuries.
I work with many singers who’s vocal habits and lifestyle habits make them more susceptible to vocal fold swelling which is a real issue. If your folds cannot create a good closure (where the folds touch to make a sound) then air is likely to escape, causing even further drying and an unstable technique.
Its important to remember that whenever we drink any fluid it never actually reaches the vocal folds, if it did we would choke. We have a little flap of elastic cartilage tissue called the epiglottis which protects the airways from anything we eat or drink. This is why steaming is so very important to help relieve any dryness in the folds, its the only way of getting direct hydration to them – Click Here for more info on steaming. It can take anywhere from 20 minutes to a few hours to hydrate your vocal folds through the fluids you drink – which is why planning is essential. Don’t just drink when you sing, drink in preparation, you should be sipping water regularly through the day – it is important that you don’t just suddenly flood the body when you remember you should have been drinking! There are so many ideas on how much water someone should be drinking – some say 2 litres, some say 2-3 litres, others say its dependent on your size, weight and how much you are doing in the day, is it hot? are you sweating or working out? any water you loose you would need to replace! The one thing everyone seems to agree on is the “Pee Clear” theory. It is said that if your urine is clear then you are hydrated, if it is yellow then you need to up your water intake.
Its important to bare in mind that there are many things that can affect your hydration levels, things such as caffeine and alcohol which are diuretics (make you pass water), heaters and air conditioners as they affect the air that you breathe which in turn can dry your throat, and medications such as antihistamines and decongestants as they work by drying up the mucous, if you are exposed to any of the above you might need to up your water intake!
If you’ve done any research into things that can affect your voice you know there is a long list of things that can potentially hinder your vocal ability, its good to remember that its not always necessary to be a way of life but something to bare in mind if you feel your voice is suffering. I dont always cut everything out which could affect my singing voice – lifes to short to be so strict with yourself but if your voice needs a little TLC then watching what your eating and drinking may help.
For more info on what foods and drinks may affect your singing click here
So what are the signs of vocal dehydration?
As a professional voice user I am constantly aware of how my voice is feeling and it is vital that I always keep on top of my vocal health. Which is why paying attention to the little signs is essential, If I feel any issues coming on in my voice I can work quickly to limit any long term problems or damage, after all this is my career and a week out of teaching or singing is a week out of work! the following are some of the things to look out for:
Dark Urine: Remember “Pee Clear” If you have dark urine you may need to up your water intake.
Needing to clear your throat often: When we are dehydrated the mucous that our body produces is much thicker, if you are struggling to clear your throat make sure you’re drink plenty and steaming often this can help to loosen the mucous to make it easier to clear. Remember excessive clearing of the throat can cause the vocal folds to slam together which in turn will encourage more mucous production as it is there to protect them!
Being thirsty or having a dry tickle in the throat: Its a pretty obvious one, if you feel thirsty drink more! however if you feel a tickle in your throat it may be that where you feel the tickle is more on vocal fold level rather than in the back of the throat, remember our vocal folds are protected by the epiglottis which prevent food and fluid from getting into the wind pipe, If thats the case you would need to steam to help get rid of the aggravation.
As always these are just some guidelines that I have found helpful for myself and my students, fluid intake is different person to person and dependant on activity and voice use. The key focus is to keep your fluids up to keep your voice up. In time you will find the correct balance that your individual voice needs.