I lost my voice — Now what?

Dear Alice,

I lost my voice yelling and hollering. In general, how does somebody lose his voice, and what can I do to help myself?

Dear Reader,

Losing your voice can be challenging, but the good news is that it’s usually short-lived and there are things you can do to minimize the impact and prevent it in the future. Though you mentioned that you likely lost your voice from yelling and hollering, it’s also possible to lose your voice from being sick. Both of these scenarios can cause laryngitis, which is when the larynx (i.e., your voice box), the home of your vocal cords, is inflamed and swollen. Sound is produced when air passes over the vocal cords, causing vibrations that produce the sounds of speech. When the vocal cords become swollen and inflamed, the sounds become distorted and your voice becomes hoarse. There are a number of at-home treatments you can try to alleviate the symptoms, but your best bet may be to practice some strategies to prevent it in the future.

Signs and symptoms of laryngitis can include:  

  • Tickling or scratching in your throat
  • Sore throat
  • Urge to clear your throat or cough
  • Hoarseness or loss of voice
  • Fever (occasionally)

While activities such as yelling can lead to losing your voice, so too can smoking, inhaling chemical fumes or smoke, acid reflux, chronic sinusitis, excessive alcohol use, and using your voice a lot such as in singing. If you do end up losing your voice, the best way to recover is to rest your voice for a day or two. Some other treatment options include:

  • Drinking fluids
  • Sucking on lozenges or chew gum
  • Avoiding clearing your throat as much as possible
  • Gargling a few times a day with warm salt water
  • Using a humidifier
  • Avoiding smoking and secondhand smoke
  • Avoiding alcohol
  • Avoiding whispering

List adapted from Mayo Clinic

If the hoarseness lasts for more than two weeks, it might be time to meet with your health care provider.

Many of these treatment options can also be used to prevent losing your voice. To avoid losing your voice in the future, it might be good to reflect on the yelling and hollering you mentioned. Is this a common occurrence or does it only happen on specific occasions? Are there common factors across these instances? Are there other ways you can express yourself to minimize the risk of losing your voice? Having a better understanding of the context around which you lost your voice and practicing some of the treatment options may help you prevent it in the future.

Best of luck finding your voice,

Last updated Mar 11, 2022
Originally published Oct 02, 1998

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