Voice, for some people, is everything. We often take our ability to speak for granted, and when we lose it the feeling can be one of huge disempowerment. Whether we are men or women, our identity and feeling of presence in a social or working group is often bound up by feeling we can speak and be heard. Getting your voice back after voice loss, whether temporary loss after a heavy cold and sore throat, for example, or longer term loss or weakness to the voice after a more significant illness, is something to really care about. Below, we set out how to help you speak again with confidence and ease.
The importance of having a strong voice
When it comes to making yourself heard, having a strong voice is essential. Having a strong voice helps you to communicate your ideas and opinions in a clear and confident manner. It’s a way of showing personal presence, determination, control of an arena, and respect for yourself and those around you. These are actually all factors that are important for a wider healthy lifestyle. It also gives people the opportunity to listen to and consider your perspective, which is invaluable in many situations, and which can be part of ensuring your mental health and sense of self-worth is high. We all need to be heard, after all. A good voice is about more than just vocal projection; it’s also about having the confidence and courage to express yourself and to stand up for what you believe in.
Overview of what causes voice loss and how to get your voice back
Voice loss can have many causes, from laryngitis to not taking care of your voice and using it badly, for example by shouting at a pop concert, or by being in a nightclub and having to yell to be heard. Knowing the cause of your voice loss is key to understanding how to get your voice back. However, whether your voice’s disappearance is due to too much yelling, or due to an illness, the reality is that there are steps you can take to ensure it comes back, and that it does so quite quickly. Some of these approaches are medical, and others are non-medical and behavioral, but by using a combination of these approaches you will be able to have your voice return effectively.
Identifying the Cause
Check your allergies
Though many people forget to think about allergies, it is possible that allergies may be the culprit, so check if there are any environmental triggers or allergens that could be causing a reaction in your throat that is weakening the voice.
Even otherwise very healthy people can find their voice weakening in the summer, for example, through the pollen that attacks the sinuses and throat and that can harm some people’s breathing. In addition, dust, pet dander, and various molds in cold rooms can also cause the voice to be affected.
Food allergies can also impact the voice. Too much dairy will generally coat the vocal cords and make speech or singing harder, and if you are mildly allergic to lactose or dairy that can manifest itself in your voice’s power being reduced.
Medications may also be triggering your voice’s weakening. Check to see if your throat losing power coincides with any new medications you might be on. Certain types of medication can cause long-term hoarseness and sore throats as a byproduct of treating other ailments. It is therefore worth asking your doctor if any of the medications you’re taking could be to blame for the loss of your voice.
Treat post-nasal drip
Post-nasal drip is a condition caused by mucus draining from the back of the nose into the throat. One of the symptoms it causes is hoarseness of the voice and this can be accompanied by coughing and a scratchy throat that weakens the voice.
To alleviate the condition, an antihistamine can help reduce the amount of mucus being produced, and block the effects of the body’s production of histamine, which can irritate the voice. In addition, a nasal wash or steam inhalation can also help thin the mucus and soothe the throat, thereby strengthening the voice again. And do not forget to assist the voice with warm liquids such as tea and honey. We look at the benefits of these in more detail later. Check our Healthnile article on How to Treat Post-Nasal Drip for further specific information on this condition.
Try vocal therapy
This is perhaps a better option for those with longer term vocal weakness or voice loss. Vocal therapy is a form of speech and language therapy that focuses on strengthening your vocal muscles and restoring your voice to strength. It may involve a mixture of approaches, from the use of vocal exercises and breathing techniques, through to receiving specialized advice from a speech and language therapist. If your voice loss is longer term, do not give up hope that it can be recovered, but you might need to recognize that you need to see a voice specialist to get you on the right track.
Cut down on smoking
There is no getting away from the fact that the voice hates smoking. Nicotine harms the voice and the throat, in addition to having other health risks. Smoking can make the vocal cords swell and weaken and this causes a rasping and throaty sound that indicates the damage smoking has done to the voice. Ideally, give up smoking, and if you need help check out our How to Give Up Smoking article for deeper layers of advice.
That said, even lowering your smoking rate will help your voice, so you can try to take a gradualist approach to this issue. It will still be beneficial to do so, even if you carry on smoking a few cigarettes a day. When it comes to smoking and vocal health, it really is a case of less means more!
Avoid speaking too loudly or for too long
The voice tires out like any other muscle, so make sure you do not overstress the voice by speaking too long or too loudly at any one time. It’s important to get the volume right and to get the overall pitch of your speech at a nice level. This may, admittedly, be difficult in some jobs or in some social occasions where you have to speak up to be heard over other noises, but it remains the case that almost regardless of the cause, the effect is that if you have to speak too loudly for too long, your voice will be harmed. Your vocal cords will be strained and stressed and this will result initially in a hoarse voice and then possibly in no voice at all.
Drink plenty of fluids
The vocal cords love hydration! If you have a sore throat, it can obviously be slightly more difficult to swallow, but you really need to do all you can to keep up good hydration levels, as dry vocal cords can be very painful and part of the problem around any loss of voice.
Water, herbal teas, and other non-caffeinated beverages are the best options to go for. Add in honey too, as it is a natural healer. These drinks hydrate and also help soothe and lubricate your throat as you recover.
Take vocal breaks
One of the best approaches to vocal health is to take vocal breaks. The voice does not like being excessively worked out, just like any other muscle. By consciously taking time away from speaking and vocalizing, you can allow your vocal chords to rest and recover from all of that strain. In the modern age, where communication expectations are higher than they used to be, we can feel pressured to be speaking a lot. It is important to be moderate with this and set yourself limits about the exposure you are going to give your voice.
Get plenty of rest
Rest quite literally restores, when it comes to the voice. Rest is the greatest natural healer for the vocal cords, especially if it is connected to good sleep. Resting can help your body relax and recover, which makes it easier for your vocal cords to recover and function properly. In addition, good sleep acts as a strengthening agent for the voice in the first place and makes hoarseness less likely. Adults should aim for seven to nine hours of quality sleep each night. If you have lost your voice you may wish to supplement this core sleep with additional naps, if possible.
Avoid irritating foods and drinks
The vocal cords need careful feeding. Avoid foods that are unduly provocative and acidic or spicy or salty, as these can cause further inflammation and also be dehydrating. You should also avoid or reduce your intake of alcohol, as it, too, dries out your throat. Caffeine is also not helpful to a lost voice or sore throat, so be sure to lower your coffee intake. Nor are carbonated drinks supportive of good voice restoration, so avoid these.
Gargle with warm salt water
Gargling with warm (not hot) salt water helps reduce inflammation in the throat and can break up mucus. Even if you have no mucus as part of your vocal problems, salt water will still act as a healing agent if gargled regularly. It assists in clearing away any irritants that could be causing you to experience vocal fatigue or loss of voice, and it also provides the antiseptic qualities of salt to help kill off any infection that may be a part of the weakness in your throat.
Suck on lozenges or hard candy
Medicated lozenges are available from your pharmacist and many of them are excellent when it comes to helping your throat remain moist and lubricated during the day. You will find lozenges and candies that are formulated with certain ingredients that help coat the throat, reducing irritation and improving vocal function. They are widely available from pharmacies. In addition, sucking on them helps to increase saliva production, which in turn reduces irritation and inflammation in the throat.
If you have a weak or lost voice, it is essential to have such lozenges around, as they are the simplest way to ensure medicated and moist vocal cords.
Use steam inhalation
This is especially wise if your voice issues are related to our sinuses being blocked with mucus. The steam works to break down the blockage and this makes the release of the mucus easier. Breathing in fully also helps to lubricate and warm your vocal cords, which enables them to soften and take in moisture, which makes swallowing easier and which assists in bringing them back to strength.
Drink hot teas with honey
Honey is your best friend when it comes to throat problems! It is a miraculous foodstuff that soothes, takes away inflammation, works to restore throat health, and that has antiseptic properties too.
Dissolved in warm water or with teas, such as lavender, camomile, ginger, lemon or hibiscus, it works organically to soothe and heal your vocal cords and restore your throat’s strength. It is also possible to take multiple times a day, and it is widely available. Though manuka honey is arguably the best, it really is not necessary to have manuka. Other honey will be just as effective in helping your throat. You can also simply eat a spoonful or two across the day and leave it to dissolve naturally in the mouth. This is also helpful to you vocal cords.
Eat a healthy diet
When you’re trying to get your voice back, one of the most important steps is to make sure you are eating a healthy diet. Ensure you include all essential food groups: grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy, and proteins, though be aware that some people find dairy can be a minor irritant to the throat and can clog up the vocal cords. Moreover, ensure your diet is low in saturated fat, salt, and sugars. If you eat well, your body will benefit from a high level of nutrition and vitamins and minerals, and these are essential for healing. Aim for five to six servings of healthy foods each day. In addition to this, you must drink plenty of fluids to help keep your throat lubricated and your vocal cords in good condition.
Make sure you are getting enough fluids
‘Hydrate the voice to health again’ is a useful mantra. It’s very important to make sure you’re getting enough fluids when you’re trying to get your voice back. Generally speaking, you should be drinking around 8-10 glasses of water each day. That may sound like a lot, but it’s worth noting that this also includes fluids from other sources, such as fruit juice, teas, or fruit water infusions.
Antihistamines can make a big difference to overall throat, sinus and voice health. Though they are usually medications used to treat allergy symptoms, such as coughing, itchy eyes, and congestion, they assist in helping a voice recover as they calm down any throat inflammation and can help clear sinuses, which, if blocked, can leave residue on the vocal cords and make speaking and communication harder. They work by blocking the release of histamine, a chemical in the body that causes allergic reactions. At higher doses, antihistamines will also reduce any swelling in the throat, which can also help to restore your voice.
We normally associate decongestants with colds, but they are also very helpful in restoring a voice that has been lost due to throat pressure and blockages around the vocal cords. Typically available in oral or nasal spray forms, they can help reduce nasal congestion caused by allergies, colds, and other conditions and this has a very positive effect on the voice and on the pressure a blocked system puts on the vocal cords. It is generally very safe for adults to take decongestants for short periods of time, but it’s important to discuss any underlying health issues with your pharmacist or doctor before using them, if you have any doubts.
Steroid sprays are one of the most commonly used medications for restoring vocal health. That said, though they are generally safe to use, you do not want to use them for too long, so if they do not make a difference after a few days, cease using them and consult your doctor. When they are effective, they work by reducing inflammation in the vocal folds, ultimately reducing the pain and discomfort associated with vocal issues and throat stress. On the other hand, some long-term use of steroid sprays can lead to harmful side effects, as with many other steroidal treatments, so if you have any doubts seek advice before going down this route.
Throat numbing sprays
As with steroids, this approach will not be for everyone, but if you use it for a short period of time it should assist you, at least in terms of palliating your throat pain. A throat numbing spray is a topical anesthetic which numbs the throat area once it is sprayed, and it can help reduce any pain or soreness. It may also potentially help to reduce swelling and inflammation. This then allows the vocal cords more space to vibrate and thus enables easier speaking. That said, be aware that it will not necessarily cure any underlying issues, and you need to be careful still to let your throat rest, or else all you are doing is covering up the underlying problem with short term pain relief.
Still, this can be a useful day to day survival aid if you have throat discomfort and you still have to speak for work or business etc.
When to See a Doctor
If symptoms don’t improve
Throat pain can be significant and it may not respond to OTC treatments or remedies. Voice loss can also potentially be a sign of something more substantively wrong with your body, so do not take this lightly. If you have not noticed any positive difference after a few days of rest and good treatments, contact a professional. If the problem is caused by a virus, of course, there’s really nothing that can be done but rest and wait until the body fully recovers. On the other hand, if it is an issue with the vocal cords, the doctor may have prescription treatments that could speed up your recovery.
If voice loss lasts more than 4 weeks
This can be considered serious loss of voice, and you really need to see a professional if your voice has not recovered after such a long period of time. In addition, the chances are that the voice is not the only issue your body might be suffering from. It may just be the most noticeable sign of further underlying weaknesses.
If swelling or pain is present
If you are having intense difficulty swallowing and drinking, then see a doctor, as it may be that you have a major bacterial infection that requires antibiotics. You also may have serious issues with your tonsils, and that can mean you may need to have them removed. Until they are examined it can be impossible to know whether this is the main cause of your loss of voice. Certainly, if you have repeated bouts of vocal strain or voice loss, it may be an issue with your tonsils.
If you experience difficulty swallowing
Issues with swallowing can have many causes, one of which could be the loss of your voice. However, because the throat and sinuses are so significantly interlinked the loss of your voice could have multiple possible causes. It may be due to a viral infection, a respiratory problem, or a medical issue, such as GERD, or acid reflux, which can put great stress on the throat. If you are unsure, you are very wise to seek medical advice.
If you feel a lump in your throat
This is a sign that you need to see a doctor straight away. Do not assume the lump will just disappear. Though it is the case that many little lumps in the throat are harmless and often disappear of their own accord, you should not take that for granted. It may be a nodule on the vocal cords, or it may be something more significant and potentially dangerous. If your voice has been lost or low in power for a week or two and remedies are not making a difference, get your vocal cords checked out to ensure there is nothing more significant, such as a lump or nodule that could be holding back your progress and that needs careful medical intervention. It’s always better to be safe.
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