I Lost My Voice, Now What?
Medical experts tell you how to get your groove back
You open your mouth and hardly a squeak comes out. Where'd your voice go?
“The most common cause of voice loss is laryngitis from a viral infection such as a cold or the flu,” says Katherine Kendall, MD, FACS, a voice loss specialist and professor in the University of Utah’s otolaryngology division.
If you lost your voice and you don’t have a respiratory illness, she told SafeBee, the problem might be muscle tension in your larynx, or voice box, possibly caused by stress or even how you changed your voice to talk when you had laryngitis. It can leave your voice rough, weak, breathy, whispery or sounding squeezed or tense. Your voice might also cut out suddenly, change pitch or fade away.
Your voice might also be hoarse or faint due to injury to the lower pair of vocal cords, known as vocal folds. The vocal cords can also be partially paralyzed as the result of an infection, resulting in voice loss and hoarseness.
Overuse is another common cause of vocal trauma, Kendall says. Picture "an aerobics instructor without a microphone, a cheerleader or a business person talking on the phone all day despite a bad cold and laryngitis.”
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Temporary hoarseness occurs in almost everyone, says Michael Benninger, MD, a head and neck specialist at the Cleveland Clinic. In an article for the clinic, he notes that almost 20 percent of Americans have some kind of chronic voice problem. “This number is dramatically worse in voice-intensive occupations,” according to Benninger. “School teachers report problems with their voices 60 percent of the time in their lifetime and 11 percent at any given time.”
Kendall, Benninger and the Mayo Clinic some tips on what to do if you lose your voice, and how to prevent losing it agai.
Rest your voice. “If your voice is still raspy, voice rest is best,” says Kendall. Drink plenty of fluids, and avoid coughing as much as possible, she adds.
Use a humidifier. This will help keep your throat moistened; just remember to follow the manufacturer's instructions for cleaning it.
Pass up the decongestants. These may dry out your throat, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Avoid whispering. It may seem counterintuitive, but whispering is harder on your voice than normal speech, the Mayo Clinic notes.
overuse your voice or clear your throat.
“Avoid overuse such as yelling or talking loudly for long periods
time,” Kendall says. “Don’t throat clear. Rest your voice if you
notice increased effort with talking or a change in vocal quality.” Rather than clearing your throat, says Benninger, try sipping water or sucking on a lozenge.
Do gentle warm-ups before you perform. “Warm up your voice before teaching, giving speeches or singing,” Benninger says. “Do neck and shoulder stretches, glide from low to high tones on different vowel sounds, hum, do lip trills (like the engine of a motorboat) or tongue trills.”
When performing, get a full chest of air so you can really project your voice, says Benninger.
Keep your yells and cheers brief, advises Benninger. “Use a little bit of loud voice, and then bring it back to a conversational level.”
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Avoid indoor air pollution that might injure your voice. This may include everything from cigarette smoke to certain aerosol sprays.
Pay attention to subtle changes in your voice. Injury to the lower vocal cords doesn’t usually hurt, ”so pain with speaking is not a reliable way to know if you have developed a vocal fold injury,” Kendall says. “The best signal is a change in vocal quality or increased effort with talking.”
Seek medical help if symptoms don’t improve. If the symptoms persist beyond two to three weeks, Kendall says, get an evaluation by a physician. “Sometimes voice rest is all that is needed. In other circumstances, voice therapy can be effective. Certain conditions require surgery.” In addition, if you have symptoms of acid reflux, this can hurt your voice. Seek medical treatment for that, too.