Losing your voice can feel like you made a Faustian deal with an evil (if delightfully campy) sea witch. Before you fully become a “poor unfortunate soul” like Ariel from “The Little Mermaid,” find out how to fix a hoarse voice and recover from losing your voice here.
Hoarseness (medically known as dysphonia) is a condition in which your voice suffers changes in pitch or quality; your voice may sound guttural, raspy, or strained, and it can feel like your throat is filled with sandpaper. A bad hoarse voice can mean losing your voice completely.
A hoarse voice can be caused by many different factors, including:
Overuse or strain
You may notice hoarseness after a long night of belting out your favorite karaoke songs. Any kind of loud, high, or lengthy use of the voice can lead to hoarseness. Be sure to keep an eye (or rather, an ear) out for any voice strain following ongoing rehearsals and shows; it’s better to reduce practice and performance hours than to totally lose your voice from overuse.
Vocal growths—sometimes called singer’s nodules—are calluses that form along both sides of the vocal cords in response to overuse. Mariah Carey has famously credited working around her singer’s nodules for her ability to hit the whistle register.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease, GERD, or heartburn takes place when stomach acid or bile enters the food pipe and irritates throat tissue.
Vocal cord hemorrhage
Just as alarming as it sounds, vocal cord hemorrhage happens when blood vessels in the vocal folds burst and fill the tissue with blood. It usually takes place after aggressive coughing or yelling, so be careful at your next screamo concert.
Anyone who’s ever suffered strep throat is all too familiar with laryngitis. This voice-stealer is caused by the temporary swelling of the vocal folds due to cold, flu, allergies, or other infections.
From home remedies to scientifically proven solutions, these hoarse voice fixes can help soothe your throat and have you back to belting melodic tunes in no time.
1. Try home remedies
Home remedies for a lost voice include salt water gargles and drinking everything from hot toddies to lemon water. “Avoid caffeine as much as possible if you can—it can be dehydrating—and instead switch to decaf tea with tons of honey,” says vocal coach Theresa Fowler Pittius. While a holistic lost voice remedy may provide temporary relief from pain, it doesn’t directly help recover a lost voice since the epiglottis protects the vocal folds from the substances going down your food pipe. Hydration does indirectly help vocal recovery, but it won’t directly affect your vocal folds, no matter how much lemon water you drink.
2. Use a humidifier
Using a humidifier adds moisture to the air, which helps hydrate the vocal folds. The miniscule water droplets released by a humidifier are inhaled, not swallowed, so they aren’t blocked by the epiglottis and can directly hit and hydrate the vocal folds. When vocal folds are hydrated, they don’t vibrate against each other as much, which reduces roughness and thus hoarseness. Try using a hot-water vaporizer overnight with room humidity of 30%–50%.
3. Inhale steam
Similarly, breathing or inhaling steam helps keep the vocal folds moist. You can:
- Breathe in steam from a hot shower or bath
- Use a personal steamer, which you can find at most drugstores
- Boil water, put it into a bowl, and breathe in the steam—but never breathe steam over the boiling pot, and be careful not to burn yourself
- Hold a hot, wet washcloth over your nose and mouth and inhale
4. Stay hydrated
Although the epiglottis blocks ingested water from directly contacting the vocal folds, drinking water hydrates your entire body from the inside out. Try drinking approximately two liters per day until your voice feels and sounds better.
5. Try medication
If your hoarse voice is caused by:
- An infection or cough: try mucolytics such as Mucinex and Carbocisteine, which help by thinning mucus in your throat and making it easier to cough up.
- Stomach acid: use proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) such as Prilosec and Nexium to decrease the production of acid, which protects your throat from further irritation.
6. Get plenty of rest
Vocal strain and hemorrhage require rest. Avoid singing and speaking entirely, if possible. If you must speak, limit the amount and talk in a soft voice to avoid causing additional strain.
7. Reduce harmful behaviors
Treat underlying conditions such as allergies and avoid harmful behaviors such as drinking alcohol and smoking to protect your vocal folds.
8. Try voice therapy
Voice therapy can teach effective use of the voice and eliminate vocal nodules over time by providing guidance on lifestyle and vocal behavior changes.
9. In severe cases, consider surgery
In severe cases when hoarseness lasts longer than two weeks, surgery may be required to treat vocal nodules and refractory lesions.
10. Harness your lymphatic system
Finally, if you have laryngitis, heed this advice from voice teacher Andrew Byrne:
If you experience a quick and complete hoarseness accompanied by other cold/flu symptoms, it is likely that you have laryngitis. Laryngitis is a viral infection that attacks the larynx (voice box) and causes inflammation of the vocal cords. When the cords swell, they cannot come together and your voice disappears. If you’re not sure if you have laryngitis, you can say “ah ah ah” several times in a row. If that speaking motion causes pain in your larynx itself, it’s likely that you do have it. When the laryngitis is acute, it’s best to rest your voice as much as possible. However, while you are being quiet, there is something you can do to speed the recovery process along.
To reduce swelling, you must harness your lymphatic system. Lymph is a fluid similar to blood plasma that removes pathogens and bacteria from the body, thereby reducing inflammation. The lymphatic system is similar to the circulatory system, except that lymph has no pump, like the heart, to drive movement. Lymph circulates through physical exercise, and especially through breathing.
There are two lymphatic nodes, located under the left and right collarbones, which are the gateways for the lymphatic system. If you run your fingers out along your collarbone from the center of your sternum, you will feel an indentation about three or four inches out, and that is where the ducts are located. Press your forefinger and middle finger firmly into this space. Is it tender? If so, the ducts may be clogged, and this stagnation can slow healing. Here is the process for unclogging the lymphatic ducts:
- Press your fingers firmly into the space under your left collarbone (three or four inches out from the center).
- Move your fingers in, out, up, and down, all the while maintaining a firm pressure.
- As you do this, breathe fully into the upper chest, trying to inflate the upper portion of the lungs. Repeat for five to 10 breath cycles.
- Repeat the process on your right side.
After going through this sequence, say “ah ah ah” again and see if there is a reduction in pain and an improvement in vocal quality. If this process works for you, repeat it once an hour while you are getting your voice back.
Medical advice disclaimer: Content in this article is provided for informational purposes only, and does not intend to substitute professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.