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19 Surprising Things Hurting Your Trans Voice Training

To give you a little back story as to why I decided to write this post, I decided to start repainting my bedroom last night and after an entire evening of breathing in paint fumes my voice is hoarse, raspy and not at all comfortable to use. Given the current state of my voice, I thought we could both use a reminder of just how minor exposure to any of these things can severely disrupt our trans voice and our trans voice training. 

1. Hydration, Your Biggest Trans Voice Training Ally:

  • How: Water is the essential lubricant for your vocal folds. Mucus on the surface of the vocal folds allows them to vibrate smoothly and efficiently. Dehydration dries out this mucus layer, making the vocal folds stiff and less pliable.

  • Why: When vocal folds are dehydrated, they require more effort to collide and produce sound. This leads to vocal strain, fatigue, hoarseness, and a higher risk of vocal fold damage over time. Dehydrated vocal folds are also more susceptible to irritation from other factors like vocal abuse or environmental irritants.

  • Prevention: The foundation of good vocal hygiene is hydration. Aim for 6–8 glasses of water daily (all throughout the day) and increase water intake if you exercise or live in dry climates. Warm, non-caffeinated beverages like herbal tea (especially with a little honey) can provide additional soothing benefits. Reduce intake of caffeine and alcohol, both of which have dehydrating effects.

*Personally, I am horrible for drinking water on the weekends and as a consequence my Monday voice is typically less than ideal. 

2. Poor Vocal Behaviors and Abuse:

  • How: Yelling, screaming, whispering (most people are surprised by this one), excessive talking, and singing without proper technique all place undue stress on the vocal folds. Harsh vocalizations cause the vocal folds to collide forcefully and repeatedly. This forceful collision leads to inflammation and swelling on the vocal folds.

  • Why: Inflammation disrupts the normal, smooth movement of the vocal folds, making voice production rough or hoarse. Over time this can even lead to nodules which can change the mass of the vocal folds, further interfering with their ability to vibrate freely and create a clear sound. Long-term vocal abuse can lead to permanent vocal changes and increased risk of vocal injury.

  • Prevention: Practice good vocal technique and warm up your voice before extended speaking or practicing trans voice training, additionally make sure to cool down afterward with gentle vocal exercises. Allow for periods of vocal rest throughout the day, especially when you feel any signs of vocal strain.

3. Your Environment:

  • How: Dry air, smoky environments, allergens, pollutants, and other airborne irritants affect the entire respiratory system, including your vocal folds. Dry air dehydrates the vocal folds, just like a lack of water intake. Irritants trigger inflammation in the vocal tract and can also increase mucus production, leading to the frequent urge to clear your throat.

  • Why: Dry, irritated vocal folds require more effort to produce sound and are more susceptible to injury. Inflammation makes the voice sound hoarse, rough, and strained. Constant coughing or throat clearing, triggered by environmental factors, puts additional traumatic strain on the vocal folds.

  • Prevention: Use a humidifier in your home, particularly during dry seasons. Consider wearing a mask to filter irritants in polluted or dusty environments. Manage allergies with medication and environmental controls as recommended by your doctor. Lastly, and arguably the easiest/ most effective strategy, stay hydrated to help thin mucus and make it easier to manage secretions.

*I’m Canadian and I live in a place that's notorious for airborne pollen, if you have allergies, never underestimate how those tiny microscopic pieces of fluff can dramatically affect your voice and entire vocal tract. 

4. Laryngopharyngeal Reflux (LPR):

  • How: LPR occurs when stomach acid rises into the throat and larynx. The delicate tissues of the larynx are not designed to withstand the harsh acidic environment. This chronic exposure causes irritation, inflammation, swelling, and sometimes even tissue changes in the vocal folds.

  • Why: The effects of LPR lead to hoarseness, a persistent need to clear the throat, chronic cough, and a feeling of something stuck in the throat. Over time, LPR can contribute to vocal nodules and other more serious vocal fold damage.

  • Prevention: LPR requires careful management in collaboration with a gastroenterologist or Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) specialist. Treatment often includes dietary changes, medication to reduce acid production, and lifestyle modifications like sleeping with the head elevated and avoiding foods that trigger reflux.

*This is something that I suffer with, but simple lifestyle changes like changing out my pillow for one that elevates my head, not eating after dinner and cutting out spicy foods, have all dramatically increased the abilities of my mtf voice. 

5. Medical Conditions:

  • How: Various medical conditions can interfere with vocal health. Allergies trigger inflammation of the respiratory tract, including the vocal folds. Respiratory infections (viral or bacterial) lead to swelling, increased mucus production, and coughing. Neurological disorders can affect muscle control and coordination necessary for voice production. Hormonal fluctuations, particularly those associated with thyroid conditions or menopause, can sometimes change vocal quality.

  • Why: All of these conditions disrupt the delicate balance of the vocal mechanism. Inflammation makes the voice hoarse and prone to fatigue. Excess mucus can make the voice sound muffled or wet. Muscle weakness or changes in neurological control can lead to tremors, breathiness, or difficulty controlling pitch or loudness.

  • Prevention: Seek appropriate medical management for any underlying health conditions. Consult with your doctor to discuss how specific conditions might affect your voice. Follow recommended treatment plans diligently, which may include medication, lifestyle changes, or other therapies.

6. Ahem and Excessive Throat Clearing:

  • How: Frequent, forceful throat clearing traumatizes the delicate tissues of the vocal folds. This repeated impact creates inflammation and can even contribute to the formation of vocal fold lesions. Ironically, throat clearing is often an unconscious habit that occurs in response to an underlying issue like post-nasal drip, reflux, or a persistent sensation of something in the throat.

  • Why: Continuous irritation from throat clearing exacerbates the underlying cause and creates a vicious cycle. It can make the voice hoarse, strained, and cause discomfort or pain in the throat area. Over time, excessive throat clearing itself becomes the primary source of irritation for the vocal folds.

  • Prevention: The first step is identifying and addressing the root causes of chronic throat clearing with an ENT. These professionals can also teach you strategies to suppress the urge to clear your throat and recommend alternative techniques to manage any underlying conditions.

*Coming from someone with intense allergies and moderate reflux, I am very much used to the sensation of having to clear my throat often. With this is mind, I have found a loud hum in a peak formation (low- high- low) to be less straining on my voice and equally as effective as a forceful clearing.

7. Coughing:

  • How: Chronic coughing, whether due to underlying respiratory conditions, post-nasal drip, or smoking, puts immense strain on the vocal folds. Each cough forces the vocal folds together violently. This repeated trauma can lead to irritation, swelling, and changes to the vocal fold tissues.

  • Why: A harsh cough disrupts the normal vibration of the vocal folds, creating a hoarse or strained voice quality. Prolonged coughing also exhausts the vocal muscles and contributes to vocal fatigue. In some cases, the strain from coughing can even cause bruising or bleeding on the vocal folds.

  • Prevention: It’s essential to treat the underlying cause of a persistent cough. See your doctor to address respiratory conditions, allergies, or acid reflux. Stop smoking, as it is a major source of both coughing and direct damage to the vocal folds.

8. Smoking and Vaping, Nicotine and Weed :

  • How: Cigarette smoke contains thousands of harmful chemicals and irritants that severely damage the entire respiratory system. The vocal folds become inflamed and swollen. Over time, smoking changes the tissue of the vocal folds and increases the risk of laryngeal cancer and other serious vocal disorders.

  • Why: Smoke damages the vocal folds directly, making the voice sound hoarse, raspy, or strained with reduced pitch range and volume. Additionally, smoking reduces lung capacity, which negatively impacts the breath support needed for strong, clear voice production. Smokers are also more susceptible to respiratory infections, which further compromise vocal quality.

  • Prevention: The most crucial step for vocal health and overall well-being is smoking cessation, pure and simple.

9. Trans Voice Training and Stress:

  • How: Chronic stress triggers a cascade of physiological responses in the body, including muscle tension. This tension isn’t limited to major muscle groups; it also affects the delicate muscles of the larynx and vocal tract. Additionally, stress can change breathing patterns, leading to shallow breaths that don’t provide optimal support for voice production.

  • Why: Muscle tension around the larynx makes the voice sound tight, strained, or higher-pitched than usual. It can also lead to vocal fatigue and increased susceptibility to vocal injury. Stress-related shallow breathing makes it difficult to control vocal volume and contributes to an inauthentic quality of breathiness while speaking. 

  • Prevention: While stress is sometimes unavoidable, finding healthy ways to manage it is crucial for vocal health and overall well-being. Practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, or yoga. Regular exercise can help release physical tension and boost mood. Consider seeking counseling or therapy if stress feels overwhelming to manage independently.

10. Poor Posture:

  • How: Slumped or misaligned posture hinders proper breathing mechanics. A hunched position constricts the rib cage and diaphragm, which are essential for optimal breath intake and controlled exhalation for speech. Poor posture also contributes to tension in neck and shoulder muscles, impacting the support system for your larynx.

  • Why: Restricted airflow from poor posture makes it more difficult to generate adequate breath support for strong, clear voice production. This can make your voice sound weak, breathy, or easily fatigued. Tension in the upper body can translate to tension around the larynx, further affecting vocal quality.

  • Prevention: Practice good posture habits throughout the day. Stand tall (while allowing your spine to bend with each breath) with shoulders relaxed and head balanced over your spine. Involve a physical therapist or personal trainer familiar with proper body alignment if you need guidance with ergonomic adjustments to your workspace or help improving postural habits.

11. MTF/ FTM Vocal Disguise:

  • How: This ones especially common for those just starting to explore MTF/ FTM voice training and involves intentionally altering your voice by speaking in an unusually high or low pitch without any proper training/ implementing a strained voice quality that puts unnecessary stress on your vocal folds and supporting muscles. For those untrained and pursuing voice training without guidance, this can lead to significant vocal strain.

  • Why: Using your voice in unnatural ways forces the muscles of the larynx to work harder, leading to fatigue and increased risk of injury. Prolonged vocal disguise can also create bad habits of vocal tension that become difficult to break, impacting your regular speaking voice and increasing your risk of long term injury.

  • Prevention: If you regularly need to alter your voice for performance or other reasons, work with a voice specialist. They can teach you how to modify your voice safely and sustainably, minimizing the risk of vocal strain.

12. Medications:

  • How: Certain medications have side effects which can impact the voice. Diuretics increase fluid excretion, leading to potential dehydration. Some antidepressants and antihistamines can have drying effects on the mucous membranes of the vocal tract. Other medications may cause muscle tension or tremors that can subtly affect the voice.

  • Why: Dehydration increases friction on the vocal folds, making them work harder and increasing the risk of strain or injury. A dry vocal tract makes the voice more susceptible to irritation and can lead to hoarseness. Muscle tension or tremors triggered by medication can create a shaky or tight vocal quality.

  • Prevention: Discuss all current medications, including over-the-counter ones and supplements, with your doctor or pharmacist. Be mindful of any potential vocal side effects and discuss possible alternatives if these impact your voice significantly. Again, one of the easiest solutions to offset these negative effects is to increase your water intake to ward off any dehydrating effects.

13. Caffeine Is Not Your Friend:

  • How: Caffeine, which can be found in coffee, tea, chocolate, energy drinks, sodas etc… has a diuretic effect, meaning it increases fluid loss through urination, potentially leading to dehydration. In some individuals, caffeine also increases muscle tension, especially in the throat and neck area.

  • Why: Dehydration makes the vocal folds less efficient, as explained earlier and contributes to strain and fatigue. Increased muscle tension around the larynx can make the voice sound tight, strained, or have a slightly shaky quality. While caffeine’s effects are individual, these factors combined can make voice production more effortful.

  • Prevention: Moderate your caffeine intake, especially before prolonged voice use. Prioritize water intake throughout the day. Be mindful of ‘hidden’ caffeine in energy drinks, pre-workout supplements, soda, and other consumables. 

14. Spicy Foods Equal a Spicy Voice (not in a good way):

  • How: Spicy foods irritate the lining of the esophagus in some people. This can trigger acid reflux or worsen existing LPR symptoms. The acidic contents of the stomach can travel up into the throat and larynx, leading to irritation and inflammation of the vocal folds.

  • Why: The irritation caused by reflux-related substances makes the voice prone to hoarseness, fatigue, and discomfort. Chronic irritation contributes to a feeling of constantly needing to clear the throat, further traumatizing the vocal folds.

  • Prevention: Identify and avoid your personal spicy food triggers. If you have known reflux issues, work with your doctor or a dietician on dietary and lifestyle modifications to manage symptoms effectively. Avoid eating spicy foods for several hours before important voice-use situations.

15. Cold Beverages and Cold Air:

  • How: Ice-cold drinks and frosty air can temporarily cause constriction of the muscles in the throat and vocal tract. This constriction makes it slightly more challenging to initiate voicing and might affect the agility of your vocal mechanism.

  • Why: Muscle constriction makes speaking or singing initially feel more effortful before muscles warm up with use. It can temporarily create a feeling of tightness in the throat area or cause a slight delay in the onset of your voice. For some people, this sensation is more pronounced than for others.

  • Prevention: Opt for room temperature or cool beverages over ice-cold ones, particularly if you’ll be using your voice extensively. Additionally, if you’re heading outdoors, wear a scarf to keep your neck warm. 

*Given my Canadian climate, you’ll rarely find me out in the winter without a scarf on and my jacket zipped up to my chin. 

16. Mouth Breathing:

  • How: Chronic mouth breathing, often due to nasal congestion or allergies, dries out the vocal folds and entire respiratory tract. With normal breathing, our noses filter, humidify, and warm incoming air. Mouth breathing bypasses this protective process, delivering cool, dry air directly to the delicate tissues of the vocal tract.

  • Why: Lack of lubrication and moisture makes the vocal folds stiff and less efficient, leading to vocal fatigue, increased effort with voice use, and dryness that may contribute to hoarseness.

  • Prevention: Address the underlying cause of mouth breathing with a doctor or ENT specialist. Allergies often play a significant role, and proper treatment can greatly improve breathing habits. In the meantime, conscious focus on nasal breathing and increased water intake can help.

17. Poor Air Quality:

  • How: Living or working in environments with high levels of dust, pollutants, smoke, or other airborne irritants has a direct impact on the respiratory system. These irritants inflame the delicate tissues of the vocal tract, including the vocal folds.

  • Why: Chronic inflammation in the vocal tract leads to hoarseness, a strained voice quality, and increased susceptibility to vocal fatigue. It can also exacerbate allergies and trigger frequent coughing or throat clearing, further irritating the vocal tissues.

  • Prevention: When possible, limit your exposure to environments with poor air quality. Seek treatment for allergies to manage reactions to airborne irritants. Use air purifiers with HEPA filters in your home and workplace to help improve indoor air quality.

18. MTF/ FTM Trans Voice Training and Vocal Fatigue:

  • How: Prolonged voice use, especially without proper warm-up, breaks, and hydration, can overwork the muscles of the larynx. This overuse leads to temporary inflammation and swelling of the vocal folds.

  • Why: Inflamed vocal folds don’t vibrate as freely, requiring increased effort to produce sound. This results in a hoarse, strained, or weak voice that easily tires. Vocal fatigue can also cause a feeling of discomfort or soreness in the throat area.

  • Prevention: Schedule short vocal rest breaks during periods of extended voice use. Incorporate gentle vocal warm-ups before speaking or singing and a cool-down routine afterward. Stay well hydrated to help your vocal folds recover quickly from exertion.

19. Aging:

  • How: The natural aging process brings subtle changes to the vocal folds. The tissues lose some of their elasticity and muscle fibers may decrease in mass. Cartilage in the larynx may also become more rigid. These changes are usually gradual and differ amongst individuals.

  • Why: Age-related changes to the vocal folds can lead to a voice that sounds slightly thinner, breathier, or weaker. You might also notice reduced stamina with prolonged voice use or slight changes in your vocal pitch range.

  • Prevention: Proper vocal care throughout life helps preserve vocal health as you age. Staying hydrated, avoiding vocal abuse, and exercising regularly all play a role. 

Ready to elevate your voice? Master advanced resonance techniques for a truly authentic and expressive feminine/ masculine voice. Book a session using the link below and embark on your personalized voice training journey today!

With all my support and cheer,

Kylie, your dedicated Trans Voice Coach


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