October 13, 2021

How to take care of your voice when wearing PPE

During COVID Peak, our Speech Pathology team has been fielding questions for advice on vocal fatigue and strain related to communication with N95 masks.

Elissa Thomson, Senior Speech Pathologist at Broadmeadows Hospital, explains, “Just like other muscles in our body, overuse or rapidly increased load can lead to straining our vocal chords, particularly when wearing N95 face masks and shields for long periods of time.”

“Emotional factors, such as stress and anxiety, as well as other health and lifestyle factors, such as reflux, smoking, and viral infections, can also contribute to voice problems.”

“It is important to consider your voice use outside of work responsibilities. In busy times or between consecutive shifts, be mindful of moderating your voice use and taking regular voice rest,” she adds.

She has the following advice to protect the health of your vocal chords.

“Try and rest your voice during breaks throughout your day. Incorporate short vocal exercises such as lip or tongue trills or vocal straw exercises to warm up or cool down your voice,” says Elissa.

“Minimise any background noise while speaking, e.g. music, loud conversations, open windows to busy roads.”

“Be mindful of your breathing whilst talking. Ensure you take regular deep breaths from your diaphragm. This will help to slow down your talking and reduce time speaking on residual air. Also move the voice around through different pitch ranges and use inflections where possible.”

“For healthy voice projection, ensure you have deep breathing to support and focus on the sound resonating in the front of your face, rather than back in your throat. For more information, see here.

Elissa says that after a period of disuse such as annual leave, we are susceptible to vocal strain. She suggests trying a series of vocal straw exercises in the days leading up to your return to work to help voice reconditioning.

Elissa points out that, “good posture is important for good voicing, so be mindful of your posture.”

Lastly, Elissa advises staying well hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day and avoiding excessive amounts of caffeine, menthol-based lozenges, as these have a drying effect on the vocal folds, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, with good sleep, a balanced diet and regular exercise.

Featured image shows Elissa Thomson, demonstrating vocal straw exercises.