How to cure a hoarse voice

Here’s the situation:

I’m narrating an online course. I’m leaving town tomorrow, so I need to finish narrating before I leave. I thought I’d be able to get through it yesterday, but after narrating for nearly ten hours, I realized I had over-used my voice and was damaging it so I stopped.

Six hours later I felt like I had strep throat. I woke up this morning hoping for an amazing recovery. I was not satisfied. I still have several more hours of narrating to do and I can barely talk.
Say hello to the internet! Someone has got to know how to cure a hoarse or lost voice, right?
WRONG. SO, SO WRONG. I was horrified by the answers people were giving to “fix” this problem!

just whisper!

cough drops!

ice cream!

No, you guys. Oh my god, I can’t believe people actually think this is the answer.

I think I need to admit this to myself now so I can teach you all a lesson: there isn’t a whole lot you can do to cure a hoarse voice besides wait. There isn’t an easy fix. I know I wish there were, but think about it: when you cut your finger, there isn’t fairygodmothersome magic serum Madam Pomfrey gives you to make it heal in three seconds. Sure there are things you can do to help the healing along, but chiefly, you gotta wait!

Let me tell you why these “fixes” don’t work:

Cough drops:

This reminds me of a commercial I saw the other day. The target audience was people who own elderly pets. The pets slowly stop being able to have fun like when they were young pups because of joint pain and whatnot. Product to the rescue! The commercial was selling a medicine that would make the pain go away! Oooohhh, the pet owners were so happy! Rover loves running in the park again!

Never once did they mention anything about making the problem go away. Just the pain.

Pain, though painful, is actually a very helpful tool. It is your brain’s way of saying, “Hey, I’m hurt. Please stop doing that and I’ll feel better. Take it easy.” Now that the dog’s brain isn’t receiving that message, Rover is going to be doing the same damage as before, but ten-fold because he has no idea it’s hurting him. The product it actually just going to make the situation worse.

Now apply this to cough drops. Cough drops these days are created to numb your throat, relieve the pain. Sure, it doesn’t hurt to speak anymore, but that doesn’t mean you’re cured. When you were in pain, at least the pain was reminding you to rest your voice. I know we’re taught not to listen to our bodies these days, but trust me: they’re right.

Now think about this name: cough drops.

Rule to remember: only take cough drops when you’ve got a cough.

Whispering:

Whispering is actually quite harmful to your voice (regardless of if you’re sick or hoarse or healthy). It sends copious amounts of air across your vocal folds and dries them out. It also puts a lot of stress on them. When your voice is hoarse, stay on-voice, but speak quietly. There’s a difference between whispering and speaking quietly.

Ice cream:

I have nothing against ice cream. But this is the same principal as cough drops: numbing so you can pretend the problem is gone. No one likes to be in pain–if you want to eat ice cream and cough drops, that’s totally fine! Just as long as you’re aware it doesn’t entitle you to speak.

As a general statement, anything you try with your voice that makes you cough afterward is not helping.

Now, here’s something that actually might help you:

Humming. Yes, humming. A gentle hum can actually do wonders for the voice. Just don’t hum all day.

And I’ve heard good things about gargling warm salt water a couple times a day (just don’t swallow!).

Also, inhale steam a couple times a day. Two sessions of five minutes is better than one session of ten. You can do this over a boiling pot on the stove or buy a steam machine–Vick’s makes them, and they aren’t too expensive.

This is why people drink tea (though they don’t realize this is the reason): the actual tea–the honey, the lemon, all that stuff people tell you is good for your voice–doesn’t do a whole lot. It’s really the steam you’re inhaling from the tea. Let me explain something: when you swallow, your vocal folds are moved out of the way. Nothing you eat or drink is going to make contact with your vocal folds. The only way to get to them directly is by inhaling. This is why smokers have those gritty voices; smoking is all an act of inhaling, so all the gross stuff in the smoke is passing over their vocal cords. When you inhale steam, the water plumps up your vocal cords!

I’m gonna be real though. In the end, the best thing you can do–the quickest fix you can get–is rest your voice. If you want to see results fast, you have got to commit to not talking. Also, I know this seems like one of those catch-alls like drink lots of water–which, by the way you should do (and notice I didn’t say “fluids”, I mean water)–get lots of sleep. Sleep does wonders for vocal cords.

One last thing: clearing your throat. Not good! It is not a pretty sound. You know why? You’re grinding your vocal cords together. That doesn’t sound very good for them, does it? Our brain prompts us to clear our throats when mucus is getting too close to our vocal cords, so this might be something you’ll be doing a lot because, even if you’re not sick, our body’s natural response to all this damage is mucus. Drinking a lot of water will help to thin out the mucus, but if you must do something about it, try doing a “young lady cough”. No voice is involved in this one, just a short puff of air. It sounds a little like “eh eh eh eh”. These little puffs of air hopefully will be enough to dislodge all that yummy stuff in your throat.

Well, I hope this was beneficial! If you don’t need the advice now, maybe it’ll help in the future!

Stay healthy!

4/24/2013 Update: Thanks so much, everyone for your feedback. I look forward to providing more tips in the future. I recently lost my voice, and would like to share my experience and what I learned from it HERE! Includes helpful sound clips.

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45 thoughts on “How to cure a hoarse voice

  1. Hmm. Now I really want to sit in a sauna for a while. Or a hot tub, I would settle for a hot tub.
    Very, very informational! Lots of things that I did NOT know about vocal chords! I woke up with a sore throat this morning, which I think has to do with sinuses + sugary foods making me run down. But I will take all of these things into account.

    Gargling is really good. My dad’s home remedy for sore throats is to toss a little cayenne pepper into the back of your throat – you don’t really taste the cayenne, and evidently this gets the blood flowing in that area which is good.

    I miss you!

    1. P.S. So while the cayenne might work for a sore throat, I’m not sure what it would do for a hoarse voice. Forgot to mention that in comment #1.

  2. Thank you so much! I did some screaming at the Rocky Horror Picture show like 3 days ago & my voice is still hoarse and I have no idea what to do. My throat doesn’t hurt, my voice is just hoarse. I’ll try everything here.

  3. wee!. :) cool! thanks a lot!!! :D i used to think that the golden rule 8 glasses of water includes juices, choco drinks coffee etc.! haha!. :PP well, now i know!. :D

  4. Thanks, I will try everything that you suggested.
    i have had a cold for the past few days, and I had to work a double shift last night, and before the end of the night i could barely talk. When i woke up this morning, I could not even hum

  5. I am very grateful for this advice and hope I can kick this voice loss quickly! My part-time jobs require speaking to people and this is a serious drawback. Luckily tomorrow I can be quiet all day, drinking tea for the steam and maybe even jumping in the hot tub :D Cheers again, I thought I was going to have to see a specialist and without insurance that would be more than rough.

  6. By and large great advice. One Caveat, however;

    Your analogy of the medicine used for dogs/animals pain and their owners being happy. (Which I can only assume is glucosamine or chondroitin (perhaps both) for joint pain. First, this medicine does work, and works for humans. It does not simply ‘mask’ pain like a pain killer it decreases inflammation and actually helps the internal development and maintenance of joints,.. thereby helping the problem. (Now that isn’t the only reason I wrote this).. but also to give my humble opinion from a medical standpoint that,.. yes.. our bodies give us our pain signals neurologically for very VERY good reasons. Also, yes.. you make a great statement that we do not listen to these warnings enough in todays society. However,.. also,.. we are evolved.. or maybe more aptly said: smarter, than this primitive warning system. As such, once we get the warning signal it doesn’t hurt to turn it off or turn it down at all. The signal isn’t healing the problem. It does in many cases, as you pointed out, constantly remind us NOT to do something to worsen the situation.. which is great.

    However, again, many times it either malfunctions where nerve impulses are sent to signify pain where the is none. One small example of thousands that can’t be argued is that of phantom limb pain. Yes, many of those war veterans who have had a limb amputed still feel great pain in that limb that is gone from their body. Why? In short, their brains still think they have that limb, and it is in a state of tension (like clenching your fist indefinitely.. try holding a tight fist for 2-3 hours.. now think about it for years on end). This has been proven by taking a mirror and covering the phantom limb side. The amputee then looks at the mirror which is reflecting the normal limb, and moves that limb. (In the mirror images are reversed, thus the brain thinks the image that is being looked at is the ‘old’ amputated limb.) In a fairly short time with this ‘therapy’ the pain finally releases.. Literally being all in the brain, it stops sending that pain signal.

    A similar property applies for all types of pain that has to be controlled. Chronic back pain that shows no obvious signs of disc, structure, or arthritic cause. The pain is real,.. living with these neurons firing constantly causes depression, anxiety.. stress.. and intense pain. When no ‘cure’ can be found (when no cause is found, usually no cure is located).. thus dulling the pain is necessary for quality of life. This same principle applies to Fibro, CF, many autoimmune disorders, and many, many other ‘painful’ conditions that we just aren’t equipped to *fix* today.

    Again, the article is a great piece, and rant, on bad advice. I just wanted to clarify my thoughts on the pain vs ‘dealing with it’.. or getting it fixed instead of ignoring it. In theory you are right.. and if it can be fixed great! But often it isn’t that easy.

    Another good thing to add would be anti-inflammatories. Inflammation of the vocal chords and even the false vocal chords can and does contribute to hoarseness.

    Take care,

    1. Thank you for that extra information. I have overused my voice though and genuinely need a quick fix for a concert I’m performing in in two weeks time. Any tips please would be gratefully received. Classically trained, already rested the voice for several weeks, once I start to sing again it becomes hoarse and weak.

  7. You are a very smart lady…cough drops, ice cream and whispering is the most ridiculous so called “cure” for Dysphonia or Laryngitis, the medical terms for hoarseness. Also we’ve all heard that tea with honey & lemon is good for soothing and a remedy for hoarseness but nothing could be further from the truth . Tea has tannic acid in it as do lemons. These two combined will really dry out the throat and possibly make symptoms worse. Since Dysphonia or Laryngitis is an inflammation of the larynx caused an irritation to the vocal cords, infection or by overuse of the voice it may be best to invest in eating or drinking anti-inflammatory foods and/or spices such as: broccoli, kale, bluberries, cherries, ginger, and garlic. As well as keep throat most by drinking plenty of water (add a teaspoon of Apple Cider Vinegar in 8oz of water). But ultimately the voice must rest. Treat your voice like you’d treat your grandmother, let it rest.

  8. i will try to do all these home remedies but i am not a teacher not a mother of small children no flu nothing but some times i feel that some thing is stuck in my thrat i am a singer but not prafesional but now when i sing sometimes i hear another voice from my chest [with my origional voice ] i am very upset .i have thyroid too .

  9. i started doing gargles once a day lil better but someone told me to take one piece of garlic and swalow empty stomoch it is difficult but yes its working

  10. umm im a 15 year old girl whos had a hoarse voice all her life, and people ask me “oh, do you have laringitis? and im like no..? and they say, oh have you had that voice all your life? and im like yeah i guess…? and it makes me feel embarassed because i’d love to have a better soundng voice, than a soft one, and i would really appreciate it if i had some help, and some ideas of how to cure it. i would really love to start singing but i’ve never sang before but i’d love to start and ui can’t if i have a hoarse voice. please, can someone help me with my problem?

    1. hey so I am an 18 year old girl and I have had a hoarse voice all my life. It borders on some kind of bass sometimes, and it gets awkward sometimes when people turn and they are all like,’ Woah, is that a girl?’ and it hurts a bit. But don’t ever think of curing it. That’s how you sound, that’s one of the things that makes you who you are. Don’t even think of changing it because you are beautiful like that. I have come to love my voice, and to appreciate it. God loved us so much, he decided to make our voices exceptionally different and beautiful. Keep living and loving.
      God bless you so much.

  11. Wow thanks!!!!! Who knew humming would help!!
    I’m attending a concert in 2 days in which there will be a lot of screaming so hopefully with the tips I’ll feel better!
    xxthanks!

  12. Thank you so much for this! I was just in a musical and my voice is aweful right now. :P and to top it off I have a solo in an upcoming concert. This really helps alot! Not to mention I found it extreamly intresting. Thanks agian!

  13. Thank you, I do not smoke at all but my voice started changing after a cold, and it’s been getting worse after allergy seasons.. I can’t seem to catch a break, I tell my husband I sound like an old heave smoker.

  14. This information is very helpful.
    I am a student and have recently lost my voice – with a twist.
    I woke up one morning and my voice was slightly hoarse. It went away as the day trekked on, but the next morning, it was thicker and heavier. Now, the fourth day, it feels like it is flaming inside and the loudest I can talk is AT a whisper. Every two seconds, my voice cracks and I go into a coughing fit. Even when I’m sitting, not swallowing or anything, it burns. Everything I eat kills my throat, and everything I drink something (milk, juice, etc.) It sears my throat. Only water helps. And ranch dressing, or juices from fruits, or mashed potatoes hurt even more.
    Any suggestions would help tons!
    Please reply here… I didn’t give out my real email, I’m just a student.
    Thank you!
    Cheyenne

  15. Great perspective. I had the flu a couple of weeks ago now and I still have an occasional cough. My voice was getting better, but now its worse again. Probably, now more so since I’ve been back to work (I’m an Social Worker who talks a lot during to the day) and because I went to choir rehearsal last night (had to go, a world renowned recording artist, composer and producer was directing us last night, which was awesome and a rare opportunity). Anyway, towards the end stage of my flu (before I returned to work), the doctor prescribed some Fluconase inhalant because my one side of my nostril was inflamed and closed. I was also coughing a lot because of post-nasal drip, etc. and was given some cough syrup with codeine, which helped a lot. Anyway, my voice was almost cured but seemed to get way worse when I started taking the Fluconase. I read the insert that came with the medicine and it didn’t list “hoarseness” (or the actual medical term) as being a side effect. Anyway, the Fluconase dried out whatever was going on, so I’m happy about that, but as a result, I feel it made my voice worse because every time I use it, my voice is hoarse for several days after so I have resolved to stop using it (disregarding the 14 day period as prescribed). I have been also drinking the tea with lemon, honey, ginger and used the cough drops, with no success. Like all the comments, the only thing that I believe is going to cure it is resting my voice, sleep and hydration. I also love the comments by Jared Guess who seems to be a medical professional (but who knows).

    Thanks for the article..I enjoyed read it. To all my fellow hoarse voice sufferers, I hope you find relief soon as I am trying to do. Its just annoying dealing with this. I pray mine is not from a lesion or cyst or something more serious and I pray everyone else’s healing too. Good Luck!

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  18. I sing a lot at different places and nothing really helps accept resting your voice as much as possible. Steam and tea helps a little by soothing your throat, but ive tried EVERYTHING and all suggestions I found on the net and the more I rested my voice the faster it healed. If you smoke, drink alcohol, argue or talk a lot..obviously the stress, chemicals anod hormones are going to make your voice worse and slow down the process. So although it may be hard to accept or do, you really just have to chill. Hope this helps.

    P.S. The only thing I hvnt tried was a Motrin or some sort of muscle relaxer.

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