First Aid for Hoarseness

adapted from Everyday Voice Care, chapter 11 “First Aid.”

If you have a cold that has made you hoarse, or you’ve just used your voice too much/too loudly in a short time, the following tips will help you recover. Repeated problems and longer-lasting changes in your voice need deeper attention, so consider the following to be a once-in-a-while emergency kit.

(1) Stay quiet as much as possible. SERIOUSLY aim for no singing or talking for two to three days (48-72 hours), other than the exercises below. Prioritize family and work responsibilities carefully, and rely on texting as much as possible. Get lots of sleep.

Drink two-three quarts/liters of water or tea per day (three-four quarts/liters for bigger bodies), and zero alcohol, coffee, or “energy drinks.”

(2) Exception to vocal rest: do one of the following for two to five minutes, three to four times per day. These are physiologically the safest types of vocalizing, and may help cellular healing. Choose one or the other, as you prefer:

(a) Gentle humming with as much nasal/buzzy feeling in the front of the face as you can find; or (b) vocalize “oooh” through a straw.

Stay in the in the lower-middle part of your available pitch range; use single tones or go up and down in a half-octave range, gliding or slow arpeggio. (Do NOT test the extremes of your pitch range until voice feels more normal.) Keep your throat and face relaxed so that you are not forcing the sound in any way. If vocalizing feels difficult, painful, or uncomfortable, just rest instead, and try this again the next day.

SKIP THIS RECOVERY STEP COMPLETELY IF YOU LOST YOUR VOICE SUDDENLY WHILE SINGING/TALKING/PERFORMING; OR IF YOU HAVE A HISTORY OF VOCAL CORD HEMORRHAGE.

(3) Boost recovery and a comfortable airway by breathing steam for 5-10 minutes, 1-2x each day. Take a long shower, or use a steam-room, “facial” steam appliance, or non-prescription steam nebulizer found online. Don’t add menthol, eucalyptus or other aromatics; plain steam is best.

(4) See the best laryngologist you can afford, as soon as you can, if any of the following are true:

  • you lost your voice suddenly; or
  • there is pain in your voice or throat that lasts more than two days; or
  • your voice does not improve at all in three-four days; or
  • your voice doesn’t rebound to normal within 10 days; or
  • you can force your voice to sound normal again in a week or two, but it still feels weird, high notes are not back or not easy, and you secretly know that it isn’t really back to normal.

Ideally, see a specialist whose credentials say “fellowship-trained laryngologist,” not just a general ear nose throat doctor (ENT).

(5) Use the quiet time as an opportunity to increase general self-care.

  • Seek light & healthy nutrition, moderate exercise, generous sleep, bodywork or massage, relaxation-breathing, prayer.
  • Avoid weight lifting, strenuous abdominal exercises, or any heavy labor that tempts you to hold your breath.
  • Massage around your voice box if you’ve learned how.

Everyone wants a magic pill to make hoarseness disappear. The only magical power is in PREVENTION, and no one but you can access that power. So use this quieter time to plan how to prioritize vocal demands, recommit to thoughtful daily warm ups, take care of yourself in general, and minimize problems in the future. Your cords, and vocal career, will thank you.

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