How Smoke from Fires and Air Pollution Affect Your Voice
Reena Gupta, MD
As fire season rages on in Southern California, with the latest in Orange County, Dr. Reena Gupta at the Center for Vocal Health is seeing a significantly higher incidence of voice complaints. Those who rely on their voices for a living are often the most diligent about caring for their voices, with period of voice rest, hydration, and limited alcohol intake. But when the air itself is the problem, what can a singer and actor do?
The case shown here highlights how difficult it can be to manage the effects of smoke in the air. The first picture and video show a patient with very high vocal demand, as a busy vocal coach and singer.
Despite heavy use, these cords are minimally swollen in the middle third but have a near normal wave of vibration.
Within a few days of the fires starting, despite taking care to rest and hydrate, this patient noted difficulty with mixed voice above a B4, which is well below her normal.
Smoke of any kind will cause similar findings. This includes vaping, cigarette smoke, and even air pollution. Symptoms of voice changes related to smoke exposure include:
- loss of vocal range
- increased mucous production
- voice fatigue
- difficulty in head voice and mixed voice
- easy loss of voice (after shorter periods of use)
Vocal Health tips:
Nasal irrigation and nasal sprays can make a big difference in vocal health. Because the smoke is inhaled and processed by our noses, this is the source of a lot of irritation and mucous production. Though some patients cannot tolerate sinus irrigation, for those who can, this can be a highly effective way to limit the need for medication.
Voice rest is also instrumental when the voice is swollen. While canceling all voice work is rarely needed, an evaluation including stroboscopy can help determine how severe the inflammation is, what needs to be done urgently, and how safe it is to perform. Resting the voice whenever it isn’t needed is always a smart idea.
Hydration is effective at thinning out mucous and is a good general vocal health tip, even without smoke exposure.
HEPA filters are highly effective to limit particulate in the air and should be considered, especially if you are in an area that is exposed to smoke annually.
Your laryngologist may also recommend medications depending on what they see during your stroboscopy. If you aren’t able to check in immediately, it’s a good idea to keep tabs on your voice. Assess carefully for changes in your voice (loss of range, raspiness) – if these occur, get checked as soon as possible.
The sooner you are evaluated, the less likely you are to be injured while working on a swollen instrument. A quick and painless stroboscopy can provide the information you need to protect yourself, when performed by a laryngologist with expertise in the care of the voice.
Contact us for a customized, detailed voice evaluation and treatment plan