My throat is raspy ,and voice is hoarse after a week of illness. As a public speaker and coach, that’s a liability for me. So, I thought I’d turn lemons to lemonade and use this as a learning moment to share with you.
Even a simple cold virus can lead to voice loss because the vocal folds, also known as vocal cords, can take a beating. Healthy vocal folds, located just above the windpipe, need to be lubricated and pliable to produce the best natural sounds. Irritation and inflammation from illness or overuse can stiffen the delicate tissues.
More than 10 parts of your body are required for you to make a single sound. These include the larynx or voice box, diaphragm, lungs, chest and back muscles, throat, mouth, teeth, tongue, and nasal cavity. That’s why irritation—from overexertion, a cold, flu, smoke, or seasonal allergies–changes the way you sound.
Three years ago, I lost my voice completely a few days before a big presentation. I polled a dozen friends and received about as many home remedy ideas. Later, I would learn that these were mostly myths, though well-intentioned.
Myth #1: Drink warm tea with lemon and honey.
There’s nothing wrong with honey, except that it can create more mucous if you’re already congested. But tea and lemon are both acidic and can irritate the vocal cords and trigger acid reflux, which makes the irritation much worse. Apple cider vinegar, often recommended as a gargle, is another acid producer to avoid.
Myth #2: Gargle with salt and warm water.
Gargled substances, mouthwash included, don’t get into the larynx, or touch the vocal folds otherwise you would choke.
Myth #3: Use throat sprays and lozenges.
Chloraseptic sore throat spray, Entertainer’s Secret, Vocal-Eze, and lozenges like Ricola may feel soothing, but they never travel deep enough to touch the vocal folds to have any beneficial effect.
Myth #4: Whisper and speak softly.
One of the worst things you can do for your damaged voice is to whisper. The second worst thing is to clear your throat. Forcing sounds when the vocal folds are inflamed is not recommended for fast healing because it smacks them together with more force than they normally receive. You may think you’re saving your voice by whispering when in fact, you’re aggravating it.
Myth #5: Have a hot toddy.
A classic hot toddy, made with tea, honey, lemon juice, and a little whiskey, brandy, or rum, is said to relieve the symptoms of a cold or flu. It may help you forget that you’ve lost your voice but do little to reach the inflamed area of your larynx and vocal folds. Besides, alcohol dehydrates you. And when you’re struggling to speak, what you need most is moisture. For hydration, water is the answer.
What can you do to heal your vocal folds and recover your normal speaking voice?
There are two proven remedies: lubricate and rest.
Moisture is good for the voice, so drink lots of water. Hydration keeps the vocal folds at the correct fullness so they can vibrate well without the hoarseness.
Rest is what healed my voice when I lost it entirely before that important presentation. Resting the vocal folds and throat by keeping silent is one of the best ways to promote healing. I went silent for 48 hours before the big day and recovered enough voice to lead the four-hour workshop.
So, remember that regaining a lost voice from illness or strain is simply a matter of time and rest. And lots of hydration.
Losing your voice can feel like the end of the world when you speak for a living. There are no shortcuts to recovery. Be patient and treat your vocal toolbox with extra kindness. Avoid foolish practices and home remedies. Your body will heal itself naturally.
These links provide resources to help you sort fact from fiction when it’s time to care for your voice. And some explainers here will help you to better understand what will work to recover a lost voice.