Maintain and improve your voice as you age
Q. My voice has become less forceful and raspy as I get older. Is there anything I can do to improve it?
A: It’s a common condition, known as presbylaryngis, or aging of the larynx. The result is often a raspy, hoarse tone.
Our vocal cords are folds composed of muscles surrounded by softer membranous tissues. Over the years, the vocal cords can lose strength, elasticity and structure.
These changes in the vocal cords may allow too much air to escape between them, which can cause your voice to be breathy and weak.
Certain habits also can affect how you speak. For instance, you can irritate your vocal folds if you constantly clear your throat while speaking.
A dry throat and irritation are often the main triggers for chronic throat clearing. But people get in the habit of doing this whenever they speak even when they don’t need to.
You can’t turn back the clock so your voice sounds like it did when you were 30. But you can maintain and even improve how your voice sounds now.
Here are some steps you can take to help strengthen and protect your voice.
Give your voice a rest when needed. Your voice needs rest when it becomes fatigued, just like your body does. If you feel voice fatigue or have throat discomfort when talking for long periods, rest your voice for several minutes every hour.
Also try not to yell or raise your voice, and avoid talking over background noise, like the TV.
Stay hydrated. The vocal folds depend on a thin layer of fluid to cushion them during speech, so it’s important to drink enough water to stay well hydrated. This is especially helpful if you battle constant throat clearing.
Inhale steam. A hot shower or steam inhaler can help clear any allergens from your nose and throat. This provides short-term hydration while helping to capture and clear irritants in your upper airway that could be affecting your voice.
Consider whether acid reflux may be affecting your voice. Stomach acid that backs up into the throat can irritate the vocal folds and cause them to swell.
Most often people with acid reflux have symptoms like heartburn and an acid taste in the mouth. But you may not experience these, so may not know you have reflux.
If hoarseness or other voice changes have just happened recently, don’t just attribute them to age. You should contact your doctor to have a throat exam, especially if you have been a smoker.
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