Help! My Voice Is Hoarse

Questions regarding hoarse voice and loss of voice are very common among singers.

The most common cause of this condition is laryngitis, which is inflammation of the voice box.vocal health - my voice is hoarse

In this article, I want to provide you with some basic information about laryngitis and what you can do to overcome it and return to your “normal” singing voice.

Note: I am not a physician so this article is based on my knowledge and experience from my speech-language pathology practice as well as my own personal experience (unfortunately, my son often suffers from laryngitis and croup which is inflammation of the larynx and trachea and results in a “barking-like” cough). The best practice is to consult with a specialist who can assess you and give individual recommendations.

[yellowbox]Bonus: Voice straining and incorrect vocal technique can lead to chronic voice problems. Get a free checklist to find out if you breathe efficiently for singing and start improving your singing right away. Click here to get it now![/yellowbox]

What Is Laryngitis?

As I said before, laryngitis is inflammation of the larynx (voice box).

Naturally, this is a concern for singers who use their larynx as their primary instrument.

In laryngitis, vocal cords become irritated and swollen; therefore producing sound may be difficult or painful.

The voice is hoarse, croaky or breathy, or at worst a complete loss of voice may occur.

Why Do I Have a Hoarse Voice?

What are some common hoarse voice causes?

The most common cause of laryngitis is a viral infection that can manifest itself as a cold or infection of the upper respiratory system (any part of your respiratory system above the trachea – windpipe).

A less frequent cause of laryngitis is a bacterial infection that may last longer than a viral infection.

Other causes of laryngitis include overuse or misuse of the larynx by shouting or singing with inadequate technique, allergies, reflux, bad vocal habits such as smoking, frequent coughing and throat clearing etc.

Luckily, these are not as common as infectious types of laryngitis.

However, they may be long lasting and require the attention of a specialist.

Symptoms of Laryngitis

The most common symptoms of laryngitis are:

  • hoarse voice or even loss of voice,
  • sore throat, dry throat, or
  • pain during swallowing.

Other symptoms may include fever, cough, headache, runny nose (when you suffer from a more wide spread infection).

In children, as I experienced first-hand, laryngitis can be accompanied by croup (with its typical cough that sounds like barking).

If the swelling in the larynx is excessive, you may have difficulty breathing.

This symptom is more common in children or in people with narrow vocal tracts (again, I am writing from own experience – two visits to the emergency room made me more knowledgeable and prepared) and a visit to a specialist is warranted.

If you are not sure why your voice is hoarse, talk to your doctor.

What To Do When My Voice Is Hoarse?

The first few days are the worst – your voice is hoarse or you cannot talk or sing, your throat hurts, you have a hard time swallowing.

Towards the end of the first week, you should feel better though. However, your voice may not sound “normal” for another week or two because it takes longer for the vocal cords to get back into their original shape.

So how to cure hoarse voice?

There are a few things that you can do right away when you feel that your voice is hoarse:

Take voice rest and drink lots of fluids.

my voice is hoarseVoice rest is very important.

When your vocal cords are irritated and swollen, they are more susceptible to injury.

If you overuse them at this stage, they may take longer to heal completely.

If it is possible, do not use your voice at all (avoid talking and singing). Watch a movie, read a book or work on a computer.

Use pen and paper (or some kind of a writing app) to communicate.

Avoid whispering and shouting! If you need to talk, use quiet and soft speech but do not whisper.

Some singers have to sing during the first days of laryngitis. It is very difficult to decide if you should sing or not at this early stage of laryngitis.

Sometimes it may not even be possible and cancellation of your gig is necessary.

My recommendations is to speak to your doctor to get a professional opinion.

voice is hoarse

Drinking plenty of fluids is a good vocal habit for singers on any day, so this rule applies even more when it comes to hoarse voice and laryngitis.

It may be painful to swallow initially and therefore, you may be avoiding drinking.

With laryngitis, the vocal cords may become dry and need to be hydrated.

Water is the best option as some other drinks may cause irritation, such as citrus drinks.

If you have a humidifier at home, you can use it to inhale moist air to soothe your throat or clear secretions. My doctor recommended that I run hot water in the tub/shower and spend some time in this humid environment to alleviate the symptoms when needed.

my voice is hoarsePainkillers (analgesics) may be needed in the initial stages to ease the pain.

However, analgesics are not a good option for singers.

Aspirin products may predispose you to bleeding.

Also avoid local anesthetics (e.g. sprays) for throat pain as they numb the vocal mechanism.

Lozenges (such as Fisherman’s Friends) may be the best option to ease some symptoms (but avoid lozenges or sprays with analgesics).

Also be aware of antihistamines because they have a drying effect.


When Can I Start Singing Again?

This is a difficult question to answer.

If you start too early, hoarse voice may return and it may take longer for your voice to come back completely.

When you start singing, spend more time on gentle warm-up exercises – lip rolls, easy scales, familiar and easy songs in your comfortable range.

As time goes by, the voice comes back, and you will be ready for more dynamic exercises to bring back the strength of your vocal mechanism. Watch for either extremely high or low notes.

When you start working on bringing your voice back, you may develop fear or anxiety in using your voice.

This anxiety is counterproductive as it creates tension in your larynx, neck, shoulders or your body.

Be attentive to this issue and include some relaxation techniques into your daily vocal routine. It may be useful to dust off some “beginner’s exercises” for breathing, opening your throat, easy phonation, releasing tension etc.

When Should I See a Doctor?

If your symptoms last longer than 3 weeks, if you suffer from recurring laryngitis, or if your voice is hoarse constantly, it is time to talk to a specialist.

And I always advise talking to a doctor whenever you are anxious or overly worried (regarding hoarse voice or any other problem) – the internet will not give you individualized attention and the recommendations you deserve.

Usually, hoarse voice is not a big deal and it will resolve itself within a few weeks.

It is however a huge inconvenience for many singers.

Try to stay healthy, develop good vocal habits and learn to sing with healthy vocal techniques.

[yellowbox]Bonus: Voice straining and incorrect vocal technique can lead to chronic voice problems. Get a free checklist to find out if you breathe efficiently for singing and start improving your singing right away. Click here to get it now![/yellowbox]

P.S. I found an interesting article on the Huffington Post about a fast laryngitis cure for singers.

P.P.S. Here is a complete guide to your vocal health with many useful links about hydration, voice misuse, hoarse voice, voice changes and many more topics.

P.P.P.S. If you know anyone who could benefit from reading this post about hoarse voice, share it with them!