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Help! I can’t speak
When you lose your voice, it’s most often due to laryngitis. Laryngitis occurs when your larynx (voice box) becomes irritated and inflamed.
You can irritate your voice box when you overuse your voice or when you have an infection. Most cases of laryngitis are caused by viral infections, like the common cold.
Inside your voice box are your vocal cords. When you talk, your vocal cords open and close smoothly. As air passes through them, they vibrate to make sounds.
When your vocal cords are swollen, it changes the way air passes through them and distorts your voice. Your voice may sound hoarse or become too quiet to hear.
Laryngitis typically heals on its own, but can sometimes become chronic (long-lasting). To get your voice back as quickly as possible, you’ll need to treat the inflammation and irritation in your voice box.
When you find yourself speechless, try one of these 15 remedies to get your voice back fast.
1. Rest your voice
The best thing you can do for your irritated vocal cords is to give them a break. Try not to talk at all for one or two days. If you must talk, do so quietly. This works because often irritation and inflammation just need time to resolve.
Overuse can hinder the healing process. So ahead and tell the kids that today’s game is, “Who can be silent the longest?”
2. Don’t whisper
Whispering is actually harder on the vocal cords than regular speech. When you whisper, your vocal cords are pulled tight. This can slow down their recovery.
3. Use OTC pain relievers
An over-the-counter pain reliever will make you more comfortable. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve), can help reduce swelling in the vocal cords.
4. Avoid decongestants
It’s normal to want to take a decongestant when you’re struggling with a bad cold. If your cold has caused laryngitis, however, it’s best to avoid these over-the-counter (OTC) medications. Decongestants dry out the throat and nasal passageways.
5. Talk to a doctor about medication
Corticosteroids are a prescription medication that helps reduce inflammation. If you’re someone whose work depends on your ability to talk or sing, your doctor may consider giving you a short course of steroids.
Steroids have risks and are not suitable for everyone.
6. Drink plenty of liquids
Laryngitis is most often caused by a viral infection. Resting and drinking plenty of fluids will help you heal as quickly as possible. Aim to drink at least 10 eight-ounce glasses of water per day.
7. Drink warm liquids
Warm liquids like tea, broth, or soup will help soothe your irritated throat. Green tea, which is full of antioxidants, may also help facilitate healing. Drink warm liquids four or five times a day, or as necessary to soothe your pain.
Avoid caffeinated drinks like coffee and black tea, as they can lead to dehydration. If skipping your morning coffee is out of the question, just be sure to replenish your fluids with water or herbal tea.
8. Gargle with salt water
Add 1 teaspoon of salt to a glass of warm water. The salt will help heal the irritated tissue in your throat. Try gargling with salt water two or three times a day until your voice returns.
9. Suck on a lozenge
A throat lozenge can soothe or numb your sore throat. Sucking on something also increases your saliva production, which will keep your throat moist.
Try a lozenge containing honey, which has natural antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
10. Take a hot shower
The steam from a hot shower helps moisten your vocal cords and soothe your sore throat. Adding a refreshing essential oil, like eucalyptus, may also help.
Dab some essential oil on your palms and rub them together. In the shower, bring your hands to your face and breathe deeply.
You can also make a shower bouquet. If you hang some fresh eucalyptus from your shower head, the steam will extract the healing essential oil. Plus, it will make your bathroom smell like a spa.
11. Get a humidifier
Your throat naturally dries out during the night. When you sleep, you produce less saliva and bacteria builds up in your mouth. That’s where “morning breath” comes from. When your mouth and throat dry out, your voice box can become even more irritated.
Using a humidifier while you sleep will prevent this from happening and help you maximize your healing time. Learn all about humidifiers here.
12. Boil some water
An alternative to a hot shower is to hold your head over a pot of boiling water. The steam will add moisture to your irritated voice box. You can hang a towel over your head to direct the steam into your airways, but be careful not to burn yourself.
Breathe deeply through your mouth for three to five minutes. Take breaks if the heat becomes uncomfortable.
13. Chew some gum
Chewing gum also increases saliva production. Chew gum all day long to keep your throat as moist as possible.
Use sugar-free gum to avoid extra calories. There are also specialty gums designed to treat dry mouth, which you can typically find at your local pharmacy.
14. Don’t smoke
If you’re a regular smoker or vaper, try taking a few days off. Smoking and vaping irritate the throat, and nicotine slows down healing. If you’re unable to quit nicotine right away, the best thing to use is a nicotine gum.
15. Don’t drink alcohol
Think about the dry mouth you get when you’re hungover. Even a little bit of drinking can cause dehydration. Alcohol can dry out your throat, which may further damage your voice overnight.
Laryngitis doesn’t typically require treatment. It’s almost always caused by a viral infection, so antibiotics won’t help.
If you’re someone whose job depends on your voice, however, your doctor may be willing to prescribe corticosteroids to decrease inflammation.
If your laryngitis symptoms last longer than two to three weeks, consult your doctor. You may have chronic laryngitis or laryngitis caused by acid reflux. Your doctor can perform a physical exam and recommend a specialist if necessary.