Do you talk a lot at work? If you’re a trainer, lawyer, singer, politician, broadcaster, salesperson, minister, receptionist, Realtor, professional speaker, or other heavy voice user,WinterBird you have probably experienced that dry, scratchy, lump-in-the-throat, hoarseness at some time in your life. Untreated and repeated, this can lead to permanent damage and permanent loss of a young and vibrant voice. (And no one wants to sound old before their time!)

A major component of effective speech delivery is the physical health of your voice. Under the duress of a cold, of dehydration, or even of excessive speaking, your vocal quality may dwindle. Even the most precise and energetic of speakers are susceptible to voice injuries that may affect their business, whether they are sharing information, closing a sale, or giving instructions as a project manager.  Or cheering for your favorite team this weekend!

Here are a few tips to keep your voice in tip-top shape this winter and throughout the year.

—       Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and smoking (or second hand smoke) which dries out the vocal cords and surrounding tissue. Instead of reaching for a third coffee or diet caffeinated soda, fill up on a glass of water or juice.

—       Keep yourself hydrated. If your throat feels a bit dry, keep a decaffeinated beverage or glass of water nearby.  Whether you are presenting, speaking on the phone, or simply sitting on your desk, a drink of water will keep your refreshed.

—       Eat “wet foods” during the day, such as soups and fruits, and sip water when speaking for longer amounts of time and during conversations and meetings. (In addition to re-hydrating, a bowl of soup is a nice way to round out a meal on a cold winter day!)

—       Avoid dairy products, oily foods, and mayonnaise during lunch if you’ll be speaking after lunch. These make you feel as if you need to clear your throat, which strains your vocal cords.

—       If you suffer from acid reflux, your larynx may be affected. Because the entrance to the esophagus is near the larynx, your voice may be easily strained with even a small amount of speaking. When preparing for a presentation or other demanding speaking commitment, be sure to treat acid reflux according to your doctor’s recommendations.

—      Rest your voice and use it less if you feel that it is starting to sound hoarse before your presentation. If your voice feels tired after the presentation, be quiet and try not to talk for the rest of the day.

—       Avoid cough drops and mints as they irritate the throat and the vocal cords. Initially, you may feel better, but these products may do more harm than good. Over-the-counter cough drops rely on chemicals such as menthol that can diminish the mucous membranes in your throat and larynx, making the vocal folds more vulnerable to irritation and infection. Lozenges with pain-killer properties may also mask illness or vocal strain. Instead, try lemon drops (or any type of hard candy) or ice chips.

—      Protect the lining of your respiratory tract by avoiding smoky, dusty, and chemically toxic environments. If you’re in one of these environments temporarily, use a steam inhaler or vaporizer when you return home. You can purchase these inexpensive devices in most pharmacies.  Think of it as a “spa treatment” for your voice and respiratory tract.

—       Try a vaporizer at night while you sleep for added humidity during cold winter nights. Or add warm moisture to your vocal cords by inhaling steam from a tea kettle or while in the shower. Simply inhale slowly through your nose.

Perhaps more important than all the other tips: if you continue to experience difficulty, seek help early; don’t wait for a chronic problem to develop. Training is recommended for those who rely on their voices professionally. A voice consultation can be a business lifesaver for many. Speaking techniques and vocal-protection techniques will bring out your most effective voice, protect your voice from minor problems and more permanent damage, and keep your voice sounding healthy and young.