As a singing teacher, the last way I wanted to kick off 2015 was with a bout of Laryngitis, but alas, I am finally recovering after nine days without being able to speak, let alone sing. So what should you do if you end up hoarse, or loose your voice entirely?
Stop Talking! (And Singing)
This was my number one mistake. I had a friend staying overnight when my voice began to go, and instead of sadly sending her away, I carried on talking… I’m pretty sure this is why it’s taken over a week to recover.
In order to recover quickly, it’s important to get as close to 100% vocal rest as possible. If you have a vocal problem, then it’s really important to stop immediately. If you can, take time off work. Even if your work doesn’t involve talking professionally, you’ll find it hard to rest 100% if you are in the presence of your colleagues. Same goes for school.
You should also stop singing. Singing is usually harder than talking, and trying to sing when you’re hoarse can make it worse and delay your recovery. Even if it doesn’t hurt, you should still take a few days off. If you’re still wanting to keep up with your music, why not use the time to work on some theoretical exercises, listen to some new music, or even watch a whole opera, oratorio or concert (you can usually catch them on Sky Arts, or there are plenty available on YouTube).
It’s really important to drink plenty to help your larynx recover. Try to avoid caffeine, and sugary drinks. Warm herbal teas may be especially soothing. Alcohol is especially bad because it is so dehydrating (that’s part of what causes hangovers).
The other thing that can be really helpful is steam. I absolutely love it! Breathing in hot steam can be soothing, and will keep your larynx lubricated which will help reduce irritation. Fill a bowl with a kettle full of boiling water, and then cover your head and the bowl with a towel. Breathe until the water stops steaming (usually about 15 to 20 minutes).
Take Care with Medication
Most “sore throat” remedies like Strepsils will not reach your larynx, so are unlikely to help with your problems. Taking anything that acts as a painkiller can dull sensations and this means you are more likely to think you can speak and then injure your voice. Over-the-counter medications will only relieve some of the symptoms by masking them.
Laryngitis is usually caused by a virus, so antibiotics are unlikely to be effective. However, if it goes on for a week or more, it is usually advisable to see your GP to make sure that it is not a bacterial or fungal infection.
Ensure Good Vocal Health
If you are aiming for good vocal health, smoking should be off the table anyway. However, if you are a smoker, this can make laryngitis worse and delay recovery. It may be helpful to use a nicotine replacement therapy to help you avoid smoking.
Hopefully, if you follow the rules of complete vocal rest, your voice will recover. Once your talking voice returns completely to normal, you can start to go back to singing. It is very important not to try to sing until you are sure that your voice has completely recovered.
It’s vital that you take it really slowly. Start with gentle humming over a very small range close to your speaking range. If there is any catch in your voice, stop and try again in the next day.
Once you can hum over a good range, try sirening on a hum, or an ‘ng’ sound to see where there are catches. It may help to start with a small siren over an octave or so, and then increase it a little each time until your whole range is back.
You can then begin to introduce other exercises gradually. It may take three or four weeks to fully recover, but you will be glad you took the time.
So if you’re feeling a bit hoarse this winter, don’t be afraid to take the time out that you need to really ensure you are fully recovered.
For more information, check out NHS Choices for a comprehensive guide.