How to get your voice back when it becomes hoarse

Losing your voice is frustrating, but it can also be painful. Learn how to best help your vocal cords heal with this advice from our experts.

At some point, most of us lose our voice or find it has become hoarse, raspy or croaky.

Medically, that change in voice is called dysphonia and can happen quite suddenly, or more gradually.

“Most people describe it as hoarseness, their voice being rough or weak, they can’t project their voice and they can’t hit certain notes,” Associate Professor and ear, nose and throat surgeon Daniel Novakovic says.

“Their voice may also lose volume and power,” says Dr Novakovic, who is also University of Sydney Dr Liang Voice Program co-director.

A sudden change in the voice is most often due to laryngitis – an inflammation of the vocal cords due to a cold virus, irritation or because of overusing our voice. This is usually nothing to worry about and will resolve in four to five days.

“When it’s related to a virus people often get a runny nose and feel a little unwell,” Dr Novakovic says.

“The vocal cords become inflamed and stiff and can’t vibrate properly to make sound.”

A burst blood vessel is another potential cause of short-term voice loss; it bruises the vocal cord, and can happen if you suddenly shout very loudly.

Gradual or longer-term voice change may be a sign of overuse injury and is commonly seen in those who use their voices professionally, such as teachers.

It can also indicate the development of a more serious problem.

How to help heal your voice

  • The more you use your voice, the worse it will get. Rest your vocal cords.
  • Avoid irritants such as cigarette smoke and strong smells.
  • “Use real licorice root to make a strong brew and sip licorice tea,” naturopath Mim Beim says. “Licorice is a natural sweetener but it doesn’t affect blood sugar levels and it contains soothing and anti-inflammatory compounds to help relieve tired and sore throats.”
  • Drink plenty of water and inhale steam to help lubricate your throat.
  • Chewing gum or sucking lozenges may help keep the throat moist, and reduce irritation and the need to clear your throat.
  • “Honey is an all-time favourite to help sore throats because it is healing and antibacterial,” Mim says. “Manuka honey is particularly good but find one with a high UMF or MGO factor.” This refers to the grade of honey and the level of methylglyoxal that gives manuka honey potency.
  • “Suppress coughing, which causes our vocal cords to slam together and that aggravates the problem,” Dr Novakovic says. “When you need to clear your throat, try sipping water instead.”
  • If a problem doesn’t settle in two or three weeks, see your GP who can refer you to an ear, nose and throat surgeon or speech pathologist for further checks.

Written by Sarah Marinos.