Hydrating the body is vital for its functioning as the adult human body is approximately 60-65 % water. Dehydration or inadequate hydration affects every cell, organ and system in the body, including the vocal system. Those who seek help for vocal problems often have their own reasons for not drinking enough water – some who drink as few as 1- 2 glasses a day because they think it is adequate; others who believe their tea, coffee or cola intake takes care of their hydration; some who argue that they don’t need to drink water since they don’t feel thirsty.

How does inadequate water intake affect the voice?

Inadequate water affects the efficient functioning of the vocal folds. The vocal folds are responsible for phonation i.e converting the airflow from the exhaled breath into acoustic energy or the raw sound. When we speak, the vocal folds vibrate and there is contact between the covering layers of the two vocal folds. Normally, the natural structure of the vocal fold lining and a layer of thin mucus protect the vocal folds from trauma caused by speaking or singing. The mucus acts as a lubricant for the vibrating vocal folds. Water provides the raw material for producing this layer of mucus. Inadequate water means the mucus tends to be thick & viscous [sticky] and the vocal fold tissues are dry which make them vulnerable to vocal injury. Dehydration increases vocal effort [by raising the viscosity of the vocal folds and therefore the phonation threshold pressure].

Professional voice users and performers need to use the voice for long hours, often at the extremes of the pitch & dynamic range. Very often, they work in environments and conditions that are not conducive to vocal health. As a result, they make themselves vulnerable to vocal problems and injuries, if they fail to drink adequate amounts of water. Water also hydrates and lubricates the mucous membranes [lining] of the throat and mouth, making articulation or speaking easier.

Does drinking water during a performance/presentation help in hydrating the vocal folds?

This will instantly moisten the lining membranes of the mouth and throat, but it does not work immediately for the vocal folds. Water that you drink through the day reaches all the cells in your body, including those in your vocal folds through the blood stream and hydrates them. It takes anywhere between 30 minutes to 2 hours for water to hydrate your vocal folds.

Recognizing vocal fold dehydration

These are a few indicators [Note that the following symptoms could also indicate other vocal and physical problems]

  • Your mouth and throat feel dry and scratchy
  • You often need to clear your throat
  • Your urine looks yellow/dark
  • Voice use is effortful
  • You feel thirsty very often
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