It might not be the first thing you think of when the dangers of smoking are brought up, but cigarette smoke can have a huge effect on your throat and vocal cords. After all your mouth and throat are the first hit by cigarette smoke and the first to be affected by the 4000+ chemicals and 50+ carcinogens in each cigarette.
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (or NIDCD) “Smoking is a form of vocal cord abuse.”
In fact studies show that former and current smokers are about three times more likely to have a voice disorder than people who never smoke.
This week we are looking at what happens to your voice over the years thanks to smoking, and what can be done about it.
Cigarettes effect on the throat
Everything you breathe in passes right across the vocal cords. When you talk, air moves from your lungs through the vocal cords to your mouth. The vocal folds then vibrate to make sound. Anything that makes it harder for the vocal cords to vibrate can cause a voice problem.
Such problems can be caused by irritants like dust, allergens, chemicals and more.
From the very first puff of your cigarette you are hurting your throat. The burning tip of a cigarette is about 900 Celsius and sends that heat (via the smoke) into your mouth. By the time that smoke reaches 20 cm down your throat it has cooled down but is still hot enough to irritate the delicate vocal cord.
This heat dries out your throat and without the proper lubrication of the vocal folds prevents them from vibrating and functioning as they should.
The irritation caused by smoking is also made worse by the fact that smoking makes acid reflux more likely, and this also irritates the vocal cords and again effects your voice.
And this only gets worse with time, that's why long-term smokers get the distinctive voice.
Smoke though doesn't just irritate the vocal cords, the toxins in each cigarette can cause a host of other issues too. The tar and other irritants in the smoke can cause swelling and other reactions on the cover of the cords. These long-term irritants can cause nodules (which are like callous’ for the vocal cords) or polyps (which are more like blisters). Both of these can affect your voice by stopping your vocal cords from moving as they should, changing your voice.
Losing your voice
Over the years damage builds up to the vocal cords and can result in changes in the way your voice works and sounds. Your voice changing is not great,but is perhaps the best outcome for smokers with their throats.
Smokers are 3 times more likely to suffer permanent damage to their throats which may lead to the loss of your voice or chronic laryngitis (which is when your voice box is inflamed).
Smoking and the 50+ carcinogens in each cigarette can also lead to more serious illnesses such as cancer which can develop on your larynx or voice box. Laryngeal cancer can spread to other parts of the body such as the back of the tongue and your lungs. As you may guess, as smokers are at a much higher chance to suffer with this.
The good news is that there are several ways to treat this, with the most common one being to surgically removing the larynx. After surgery, you will not be able to speak or breathe in the usual way. Instead, breathing will be made possible by way of a permanent hole in your neck, which is called a stoma.
This can leave you unable to speak, or only able to speak with the help of a machine.
How E-cigarettes can help
Though the stoma or cancer are the worst-case scenarios, there is no doubt that cigarettes will effect your voice. By getting rid of the toxins and chemicals you can help stop the damage to your voice.
The best way to do this of course is to stop smoking, and stop inhaling anything but air. However for many of us stopping is one of the hardest things we will do, with most of us repeatedly failing to stay on the wagon.
And that’s where e-cigarettes can help. As e-cigarettes are only made up of 4 ingredients, they do not contain the 4000+ chemicals and 50+ carcinogens of cigarettes. They do contain nicotine though, and so not only satisfies the nicotine craving, but as they feel and taste like cigarettes they can satisfy the psychological addiction too.
By making the switch to e-cigarettes you could be getting rid of the toxins that are irritating your vocal cords and larynx. Vapour isn't anywhere near as hot as cigarette smoke, with the average vapour being about 200 Celsius which is half what smoking is.
Of course by making the switch to e-cigarettes you aren’t just helping your voice, but the rest of your body too. By getting rid of the 4000+ chemicals in cigarettes and 50+ carcinogens, e-cigarettes have been shown to be 95% less harmful than cigarettes!
And by giving smokers not only the nicotine they need but the flavour and the feel of cigarettes they make one of the best ways to make the switch away from cigarettes.