Why does a person's voice change with age: at what age do vocal cords age

Yulia PoteriankoLife
Daily singing can slow down the aging of the voice

Changes in the body with age affect even such a feature as the voice. Its tone changes, it can become hoarse and more "dry" in sound. But is it possible to stop voice aging?

Adam Taylor, Director of the Center for Clinical Anatomy Training at Lancaster University, decided to find out in an article for BBC Future. According to him, it is indeed possible.

How the voice works

The vocal cords, which provide the sound of the human voice, consist of muscle and connective tissue. There is a gap between these very elastic formations called the vocal cord.

When air is released from the lungs, the vocal cords are set in motion by its pressure. They close, stretch, and oscillate. This is how the sound of the voice is produced. But this is not the only function of this organ. They also protect the bronchi and lungs from foreign objects.

The position of the ligaments and the strength of their tension are also influenced by the approximately 17 muscles in the larynx. They help to modify the sound.

How the voice is formed in women and men

We are all born with approximately the same vocal cords, but they develop differently in men and women during puberty. This process is influenced by hormones. Thus, in boys, the structure of the larynx changes, the Adam's apple grows, and the length of the vocal cords increases. On the contrary, women's vocal cords become thinner by 20-30%. When the process of growing up is over, young men have an average length of about 16 mm, and women have about 10 mm. This is what causes the difference in voice pitch.

However, the influence of hormones on the voice continues after puberty. Thus, in women, it can change under the influence of the menstrual cycle. Its best quality is achieved during ovulation. At this stage of the cycle, the glands produce the most mucus, which, in turn, improves the function of the vocal cords. On the other hand, birth control pills that block ovulation can worsen voice quality in women.

On the eve of menstruation, however, female hormones make the ligaments stiffer. Because of this, in the 1960s, opera singers were even given extra rest during this period so that they would not damage their ligaments. Since this organ is thinner in women, it is more easily damaged by overwork.

How the voice ages

Almost all parts of the human body change with age, including the ligaments. But this process is not the same for everyone.

Over time, the mineral content of the human larynx increases, making the cartilage tissue harder and more bone-like. Accordingly, the flexibility of the vocal cords suffers.

Age-related changes also affect the muscles that move them. They weaken and lose elasticity. So do the tissues that support the vocal cords. Of course, the lung muscles also undergo changes - they are no longer able to create such a powerful air flow to create sound. The number of glands that produce protective mucus also decreases. The ability to control the larynx decreases, and the voice changes.

How to slow down voice aging

Some of our habits can speed up processes in the larynx that affect the voice. This applies, in particular, to smoking. It can cause localized inflammation and increased mucus production. But at the same time, tobacco smoke can dry out the mucous membrane. Alcohol also has a similar effect.

Some medications can also have a certain effect. For example, steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs in the form of inhalation, which can be prescribed for laryngitis. Blood thinners can affect the vocal cords and cause polyp formation. People who take them may have a hoarse or harsh voice. Muscle relaxants are another group of drugs that affect the sound. They can cause acid from the stomach to enter the larynx, irritate the ligaments, and change them. As a rule, after stopping the use of drugs, the voice returns to normal.

The ligaments can also wear out due to excessive use. This can happen to singers, lecturers, and other people who use their voices a lot. They can even develop a disease called Reinke's edema. It can also be triggered by smoking. Due to Reinke's edema, fluid accumulates in the vocal cords, and they begin to sound lower. Serious cases of this disease even require surgery to remove the fluid. However, in most cases, rest and avoidance of irritants are enough. Speech and language therapy can also help.

Keeping your voice in good shape will help you use it regularly. Like any muscle, the ligaments need regular training. This, for example, explains why singers experience much less voice change with age.

You can train your vocal cords by singing or reading aloud every day. This will be enough to slow down the decline in their performance. For those who want to save their voice, doctors also recommend drinking enough water, as well as reducing alcohol consumption and quitting smoking.

Earlier, OBOZREVATEL told you how one simple habit can help maintain a healthy body and prolong life.

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