2 Causes of Vocal Hoarseness + How You Can Soothe Your Voice

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You’ve been rehearsing like a champ for weeks. It’s almost opening and you can’t seem to shake this hoarse voice. You’re not sick with a cold. It could be allergies, but you have no other symptoms that point to that. The bottom line is, you need your voice to return to normal as soon as possible!

Vocal health is serious business for actors and singers whose voices are their instrument. Hoarseness that lingers for two or more weeks should be addressed and you should make an appointment to see a laryngologist to determine specifically what the problem is and how to recover.

While I’ve previously outlined some ways you can try to avoid vocal hoarseness, let’s take a closer look at two causes and what you can do to soothe your worn-out voice.

Vocal Fatigue
Just as it sounds, vocal fatigue results when you’ve overused your voice without proper recovery time. The vocal folds are muscles and just like any other muscle or muscle group, they get tired, sore, and don’t work as well after a strenuous workout. You might have vocal fatigue if you find that along with the hoarseness you’re running out of breath when speaking or singing, your throat or neck feel tight or tense, you’ve lost facility in your upper and lower parts of your range, your voice feels scratchy, or your mouth feels very dry.

Over-The-Counter Cold Medicines
Antihistamines can be a godsend when we can’t breathe due to a cold or severe allergies. They function by drying the mucous membranes in the sinus cavities and throat. But sometimes they can be over-drying, leaving the vocal folds without the healthy coating of mucus necessary for optimal functioning. When that happens, the voice is more prone to injury and temporary loss of flexibility and ease. As with all things, know your body and how it reacts to what you put inside of it. Take these medications only when you really need them and go easy on vocal use until you recover.

With these causes in mind, how can you help ease your voice? Here are three tips:

1. Hydrate
The standard recommendation for a daily water requirement is usually 32 ounces. However, for professional voice users, athletes, and dancers the preferred recommendation is about twice that. Vocal use is drying, and without adequate and regular hydration, the vocal mechanism suffers.

If you drink coffee, tea, sodas, or alcohol, moderate your intake and replace each serving of these drinks with a glass of water. These drinks are diuretics, which remove needed fluid from the body, so you need to replace it. Like everything you put in your body, listen to what it needs and choose accordingly. Keep fluids flowing to help rehydrate dried out tissues.

Self-Care: An Actor’s Secret Weapon

2. Rest
For a healthy voice, 10 minutes of vocal rest is recommended following 90 minutes of vocal use. Ideally, this means no talking or singing at all. Use this time to drink water, meditate, or work on your lines or music. We all know it’s difficult at times to avoid talking with our peers on a rehearsal break. If you must talk, speak in “confidential voice” using a fully phonated, not breathy, but low volume voice, as if you were speaking to someone very close about something confidential. Whatever you do, do not whisper! It’s one of the most damaging things you can do to an already damaged or tired voice.

3. Warm-Up and Cool Down
Let’s be honest, sometimes we cheat and skip our vocal warm-up before rehearsal. It happens. I get it. But when you jump right into heavy singing or speaking without warming up first, you risk vocal injury or at least temporary hoarseness. A sprinter wouldn’t think of running a race without first warming up. A dancer would never dance full out without first warming up. Singers and actors are no different. Even a five-minute warm-up will ease your vocal folds into optimal functioning by gradually getting more blood flow and hydration into those tissues. A warm-up also focuses our attention on proper breath support, posture, and resonance. It is a warm-up for the mind as much as one for the body.

It’s equally important to cool down the voice after intense vocalization. When vocal folds are tired, it’s a good idea to gradually decrease inflammation with a gentle onset of voice moving from a high pitch down about five notes. Sighing gently while relaxing the neck is also in order. Easy humming can help cool things down a bit too.

You want your voice to support you and your career for many years to come. Make it a priority to give it the care and attention it deserves. Remember, if you have concerns then seek advice from a health professional.

*This post was originally published on May 9, 2019. It has since been updated.

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The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

Author Headshot
Connie de Veer
Connie de Veer is a professor of acting and voice at Illinois State University, a member of Actor’s Equity Association, a certified teacher of the Alexander Technique, a certified professional co-active coach, and the co-author of “Actor for Life: How to Have an Amazing Career Without All the Drama,” coming soon from Smith & Kraus.
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