Many ask me
“why do I keep losing my voice?“
As well as…
“why am I constantly hoarse?”
“I feel like I’m never getting back to full strength vocally”
The truth is, losing your voice can be caused by something very small and simple, but is a serious, serious thing whatever your job.
I meet a lot of speakers (e.g. church preachers, business-people, teachers, call-centre staff, etc) who are losing their voice on a regular basis throughout the year.
Why is this?
This is due to abuse, overuse, and/or misuse.
When we do any or all of these things we cause a swelling in the vocal cords – an edema. If we are not careful, this general swelling can become localised inflammation such as nodules… which can carry serious consequences (while serious, this isn’t the purpose of this article, as we’ve already discussed this in another article. Click here if you want to read more about nodules).
The best way to tackle losing your voice (before even talking about voice therapy) is to identify where you are abusing, misusing or overusing your voice in the week.
IMPORTANT DEFINITION: To get the best use out of the following, we are going to define a comfortable speaking volume as the volume you would use when holding a conversation with one other person, in a completely silent room (e.g. no other people, no music playing, no hum from electrical goods, no TV, etc). This is your voice’s natural weight and calibration showing through. Bear that in mind as we read the following:
AREA 1 – Abuse
– This is often the easiest one to spot. If you spend a lot of time at (say) football matches or at loud clubs, then you are going to be shouting a lot. It only takes a few minute of intense shouting to cause noticeable damage to your vocal cords.
Scaling it back from “shouting”, I know many speakers who (in an effort to be more dramatic onstage) regularly go for a soft yell throughout their talks. Whilst obviously dramatic and helpful for communication, if shouting is a 10/10 on the wear and tear scale, then that artificial soft yelling or aggressive speaking can be a 5-7/10 on the wear and tear scale.
Mark’s Suggestion: Reduce your weekly vocal load
Try looking at your average week and its activities, and pay attention to periods where you are regularly raising your voice above a comfortable speaking volume. Recognise that these are going to be the biggest source of vocal stress and vocal loading during your week.
Try to either reduce the frequency of these events, keep the highest vocal intensity to a minimum duration, or reduce the overall intensity at which you use your voice at these events (or ideally all three) will result in a BIG difference overall.
AREA 2 – Overuse
– This one is a little harder to spot. Whereas everyone can identify shouting, not everyone can identify what constitutes overuse. Particularly in teams of people where a leader or critical numbers of team members raise their voices all day every day, people then assume that is what they need to be doing as well…
But, we are not all built the same – we need to recognise our own abilities and strengths, and play to those, not those of others.
Everyone has (relatively speaking) their own vocal balance point, where they are not so loud they are fatiguing themselves, but not so quiet they feel like they are drying their voice out.
More than that, we all have a certain amount of vocal loading that we can take, i.e. how much talking/singing can we take in a day without suffering. Some people can take a LOT of use of their voice with no ill effects, others need regular time-out time for their voice.
A lot of people also have a diary where they have a day of heavy vocal use (e.g. at a conference, meeting with lots of people), then yet another day of heavy vocal use (e.g. the same again, or a de-brief with team members about how the day before went), followed by another day (e.g. more meetings, etc). It’s like doing repeated intense gym days, but never actually resting.
Mark’s Suggestion: Establish and change problematic patterns
Try looking at your average week and its activities, and notice when your voice starts to fatigue. Then, try and establish the trajectory that landed you there, e.g. what’s happening on the days leading up to that regular voice loss/fatigue.
Like in the abuse section, try reducing the amount of vocal loading you are doing in those times (e.g. talk to fewer people, factor in allocated rest time, don’t sing along to things if you don’t have to) as well as identifying any potential excess intensity.
AREA 3 – Misuse
– This one is even harder to spot, particularly as we’ve already covered shouting as abuse, and excessive use as overuse.
When I talk about misuse, I’m talking more about the way in which we use our voice as an tool/instrument. Many people aren’t shouting or even using their voice excessively, but they suffer fatigue – why? Because the way in which use their voice is fundamentally unhealthy.
Call centre staff can often be overly breathy when they speak, with excess air going over their vocal cords. This dries them out and fatigues them, despite low volume. Therapists are similar. Certain business people can be more glottal when they speak (abrupt, hard starts to words) in an effort to be more authoritative or dominating. Whilst arguably effective, without even being loud, this can aggravate the cords.
Others often speak at the very bottom end of their voice in an effort to introduce vocal fry into their voice (think Morgan Freeman), which can be very wearing on the voice without any substantial volume.
These things can be addressed through various vocalises (voice exercises) that help return the voice to a more balanced and relatively normal state. With time, these will create robustness in your voice, by increasing the threshold of vocal stress you can take, and by increasing the duration of vocal loading you can cope with.
Mark’s Suggestion: Establish a base-line of your voice, and stick to it
To identify this, think about your normal speaking voice (as defined above) and compare that to the various stages of your day to day activity. If you want to get really analytical, perhaps even record the two, and identify how they differ.
While you need to know what you’re doing to fix this, this will go some way to showing how far from healthy you are likely straying with the daily use of your voice.
Question: Why do I keep losing my voice?
Answer: Abuse, overuse and misuse
Revisit your week, and identify these three areas. You’ll be surprised what you’ll find that can improve your voice. I use this same process when I work with people who’ve had weekly or seemingly constant ongoing voice issues (e.g. church staff members, call centre staff, teachers, business-people, etc), and we find that this approach means their voice returns fully within a few weeks.
Within a few months they find they rarely get knocked off balance again. Many comment that their voice is so much more robust, that it almost seems insane to think they’d ever had the voice issues they’d had previously.
Try following the above suggestions, and look after your voice – it’s the only one you’ve got!
Learn More: Related Articles
If you want to learn more about vocal health and voice issues, you may enjoy the following articles:
Shouting masquerading as singing: Why so many singers are just yelling
Why vocal problems so regularly derail careers, permanently
Famous Singers with Voice Problems
Vocal Health Issues
My Singing Voice Hurts: 5 Habits for Vocal Health
Vocal Longevity: The Icarus Effect
The Seriousness of Vocal Fold Nodules