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!
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 some 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:
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 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.
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!
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.