Laryngeal Hydration: Taking Care of Your Voice

It is difficult to impossible for a trumpeter to play with lips that are completely dry. In an analogous manner, the vocal cords (laryngeal lips) do not vibrate well when the tissues are dry. Mild to moderate dryness may permit vibration to produce voice, but with more effort, or with certain limitations. Consider also that vocal (mucosal) endurance is better when the vocal cords are optimally wet.

For these reasons, it is appropriate for every person with poor voice function to ask themselves whether some degree of laryngeal dehydration may be a cause or contributor. And he or she may profit from a trial of vigorous hydration, just to make sure that it is not a part of the difficulty a person is having with his or her voice.

Hydration Strategy for Voice Care

Be forewarned that if this represents a considerable increase in your fluid intake, you will spend more time in the bathroom, especially in the first couple of days. Your kidneys will need a few days to adjust. After the first day or two you may discover that trips to the bathroom decrease even with the same intake. You may notice that you salivate more freely; your nose is less crusted; even your eyes feel “wetter.” Here is a step-by-step hydration protocol to try for at least a week.

  1. Place a full glass of water beside your bed. Upon awakening in the morning, drink it down. Ideally, aim for 10 ounces (about 295.74 ml) of water or more.
  2. Have at least another cup and a half of water within an hour, such as at breakfast.
  3. Another large glass of water at mid-morning.
  4. Again, at lunchtime.
  5. Again, at mid-afternoon.
  6. Again, with dinner.
  7. Again, mid-evening.

A half-gallon of fluid per day is considered adequate; this equals 8 cups of fluid or 64 ounces (about 1.89 L). During a hydration trial—one designed to determine if relative dehydration of the larynx is part of one’s problem—80 ounces (about 2.36 L) is better (10 cups of fluid!) Singers often find this larger amount works better for them. Technically, any kind of fluid counts toward this total, but caffeinated, highly sugary, and/or alcoholic drinks are less hydrating than unsweetened, non-caffeinated drinks.

A Few Other Ideas for Voice Care

  1. Some use a measured amount of fluid and make sure that it is consumed throughout the day. In other words, one might fill a 32-ounce (quart) container at home and a second one at work, making sure that both are consumed completely by the end of the day.
  2. It is better to maintain a steady supply of fluid than to alternate “drought and flood.” It is as though your secretion glands (and kidneys) need to know you are “sincere!”
  3. As a corollary to #2, hydration for a performance should be throughout the entire day, and not just for the hour prior to performance. And keep in mind that it is estimated that 20% of liquids are absorbed in the stomach with 80% from the small intestine. And so, taking fluids on a full stomach will hydrate you more slowly.
  4. Consumption of very salty foods (chips, restaurant food, etc.) will increase the need for hydration.
  5. One can tell if hydration is adequate by observing the color of urine, which should be of light color. Keep in mind that color may be darker first thing in the morning, and after taking certain vitamins.
  6. During hot weather or periods of extended exercise, increase fluid intake even further.
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