‘Mask’ and You Shall Receive: 5 Tips for Safe Voicing in a Mask

By: Sara F. Semesky, MS Ed, CCC-SLP, Speech-Language Pathologist

 

Woman adjusts mask.In response to Covid-19, it can sometimes feel like we’ve had to adjust every one of our habits. Now, more than a year into the pandemic, we know the drill. Temperature checks, social distancing, limited capacity, and of course– masks. As data continues to evolve and vaccines become more available, many of these adaptations may decrease. But many wonder… Are the masks here to stay? Many officials predict that masks will likely be the last Covid-19 accessory to go, especially within more densely populated environments such as concerts, conferences, and even classrooms.

Dr. Cecelia Ward (AuD, CCC-A, F-AAA) will share information about the impacts masks can have on users of hearing aids in an upcoming blog post. From the “speech side”, it’s also important to consider the vocal health of the speaker. Below, you will find 5 tips for effective and vocally-safer communication, while wearing a mask:

1. Stay Hydrated

This is one of the most important habits for maintaining vocal health. In general, a dehydrated body cannot function as effectively. Hydration trickles down (so to speak) to the important tissue within your voice box. To combat dehydration, limit your intake of diuretics such as caffeine and alcohol or supplement with water! You can crunch on water-dense snacks such as watermelon, grapes, cucumber, and apples. Humidifiers can also be a great, hydrating addition to your home or office.

2. Rest Your Voice

If you’re in an environment where masking is required all day, your voice is likely tired from compensating with higher volume. Try to schedule times when you can rest your voice. Start with 10 minute increments throughout the day. On your commute home, resist the urge to sing or make a phone call. Instead, listen to a podcast or audiobook, sip from your water bottle, and enjoy the vocal rest.

3. Support Your Volume

It’s natural that we increase our voice volume, while wearing a mask. This can be a helpful strategy, short term. However, increasing volume for longer conversations can lead to vocal fatigue, leaving you feeling sore and sounding  hoarse. Supplement increased volume with other clear speech strategies. Slow down your speech, emphasize important words with changes in tone, and over-articulate speech sounds. Non-verbal behaviors such as gestures, face-to-face positioning, and exaggerated expressions can also help to clarify your message.

4. Consider the Environment

Depending on your setting, there may be music, other conversations, traffic, or loud movement. If you’re having difficulty being understood amidst the background noise, there may be a few modifications you can make. If possible, avoid peak hours when visiting public places. When gathering with others, speaking one-on-one may be more successful than speaking within groups. These modifications can also help decrease the risks of contracting Covid-19.

5.Don’t ignore symptoms

If you’re experiencing continued tightness, soreness, or a hoarse vocal quality, don’t ignore it! An Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) doctor and a Speech-Language Pathologist can collaborate to determine the best way to help your voice. To learn more about vocal health, quality, and pathologies, contact HASA’s Clinical Services Department at 410-318-6780.