The L Word and the Voice Actor

by | Animation, Business, Career Advice, Video Games, Voice Acting

The L word and the voice actor: “L” stands for laryngitis, and is the one thing that should strike fear into the lives of all who make a living using their voice. As common as the condition is, many  voice talents  I know have never experienced the loss of voice, or had to endure it.IMG_2405
Laryngitis: It’s also called laryngeal inflammation-and here’s the definition of it according to Mayo clinic;
“An inflammation of the voice box from overuse, irritation, or infection of the voice box (vocal folds) from overuse, irritation, or infection.”
 It is very common , and  there are more than 3,000,000 US cases each year.
Many are fortunate to never encounter it.  I’ve had it three times in my life.  One of those times was last week, and it arrived in combination with all sorts of unwanted goodies that laid me out flat, and temporarily out of business.
Oh!  The things we take for granted
Truth be told, in my younger and foolish days, I used to believe my strong voice would always be there, and never let me down. Years back, I’d think nothing of going out to crowded smoky bars and sing rock and roll tunes with my pals in the bands, and of course, hanging out after the set, with late night beer swilling and a gab fest until we shut the place down. Still my voice was fine the next day for my 2pm radio gig which required six days a week of straight on air time. Voice-tracking wasn’t part of the radio scene in those days like it is now. These days, the jock goes in and records his/her station breaks in  advance, all in about an hour, and lower-paid board-ops do the rest.
I’ve become more respectful and protective of my voice over time. I’m a sports nut, particularly enjoying NFL football. I’ve trained myself to clap loudly or fist-pumping and high-fiving instead of screaming at the TV. And now I don’t go to crowded places where there’s a lot of noisy conversation , loud music or TVs to talk over. I’ve come to preserve and care for my instrument out of necessity, as it’s the centerpiece of my livelihood.
The vocal “cords” aren’t really cords, but two mucous lined folds covering muscle and cartilage. Normally vocal cords open and close smoothly, forming sounds though movement and vibration. But during episodes of laryngitis, the vocal cords become inflamed or irritated. This swelling causes distortion of the sounds produced by air passing over them. As a result, the voice sounds hoarse. In some cases of laryngitis, your voice can become almost undetectable.

Laryngitis may be short-lived (acute) or long lasting (chronic). Most cases of laryngitis are triggered by temporary viral infection or vocal strain and aren’t serious. Persistent hoarseness can sometimes signal a more serious underlying medical condition. This is when you’ll need to see the otolaryngologist or ENT. (Ears, nost and throat doctor)

The first two times I had laryngitis, there were no other symptoms. I just woke up one day and my voice was gone. The first two times occurred when I was living in San Diego, and one of those happened was when I was booked at a studio for some commercial recording. Fortunately , the producer rescheduled instead of replacing me.  Recovery was swift and the family had to put up with hand written notes and hand gestures for a day or two.

The stakes are higher now as a full time voice artist and entrepreneur. Now, there are just too many short-term auditions, and rush projects all every day depending on the ability to quickly deliver the goods. And the goods had better be in good shape! When you have no voice, well friends, you’re just- as they say, SOL.

My third encounter with the dreaded “L “word began with chills, followed by fever, and general malaise that leveled me and hijacked my voice. The flu like symptoms went straight for the heart and soul of my life’s work, my voice box. This time it was really bad, and I was scared.

I couldn’t do much. I unplugged and slept up to twelve hours at a time. I wasn’t hungry, turned down auditions and work, and slept some more.

What I did :

  • I observed complete vocal rest
  • Gargled with warm salt water
  • Drank about a gallon of water per day, including Throat Coat tea with slippery elm, clear juices , sucked on lemon mint Ricola lozenges and used a steam inhaler several times a day.
  • I also researched Laryngitis, and tried to find out more about vocal health, preventive maintenance of the voice and evaluated home remedies, some of which seemed kind of unappealing.

Recommended from Research:

  • Don’t smoke, and stay away from second-hand smoke
  • Avoid alcohol. It tends to desiccate, and in the end is dehydrating, plus it’s a depressant. I’m depressed enough that I have no voice. No need to rub salt into the wound.
  • Refrain from overuse of voice, stressing it, especially yelling or screaming. You could develop nodes or polyps on your vocal folds, which could require surgery. And most of us have heard about the botched Julie Andrews vocal surgery that never allowed her to sing again. Are you willing to risk that?  Not me! If you perform vocally stressful work, like permorning animation voices or in video games,  be sure to give equal time to vocal rest.
  • Don’t try to force the voice to sound normal while having laryngitis, as it can cause permanent damage.

Well by the third day, the fever broke but the dry hoarse cough remained. I still had chills and lethargy,  and on the stern recommendation of my Facebook friends (along with many of their remedies) I visited my Doctor. She listened to my chest and put me on a strong antibiotic for treatment of pneumonia!   I’m finally on the mend, save for some residual coughing and using an expectorant. (guaifenesin)  Energy is returning, and so is my vocal range, albeit slowly. I’m feeling lucky that it started during a lighter than normal work week;  the week after Easter, when a lot of folks take Spring break. Still drinking lots of water, and resting!

Never, never ever take your God-given voice and general health for granted!

4 Comments

  1. Bobbin,
    Great post, good advice to follow!
    I hope you’re well very soon, with a smile on your face! Blessings.

    Brian

    • Hi Brian,
      Thanks for your well-wishes. I’m usually very active and exercise all the time, so just hanging out and not doing much is really a foreign concept! At least I can use my voice again. I just need to be patient about the rest of it!
      Best,
      Bobbin

  2. Thank you a thousand times for this, Bobbin. I’m just emerging from some of what you’ve described in your blog. I fought it valiantly for over a month. It was awful, to say the least. My nasty virus strain went straight into laryngitis (…no voice for 3 days – hoarse voice for a week more), then into my lungs. And the ‘crackle’ the GP heard required two different antibiotics. Though they still don’t believe it’s pneumonia, I’m having a chest X-ray at the end of this week. Sigh… I’m dogged with the same concerns you are about vocal health so I’ll continue to take the same precautions you write about in order to try and keep the worst at bay. (I’m SO pleased you’re getting better and feeling stronger day by day!)

    • Wow Debby! What you’ve described sounds serious! My Doc put me on Azithromycin right away. It’s a highly concentrated antibiotic that is taken once per day for five days. I’ve read that symptoms can linger (cough, fatigue, etc.) for weeks. It’s a good thing you’re getting a chest x-ray. Please take it easy! I’m hoping you’ll recover quickly!
      Virtual Hugs!
      Bobbin

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