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What to do when you've lost your voice

What to do when you’ve lost your voice

This blog post is dramatically titled ‘What to do when you’ve lost your voice’ which, let’s be honest, happens to us all at some point.

Not necessarily because your technique’s a bit crap, but it is kind of inevitable that we get ill and that illness can head to the throat. I often get emergency emails and DMs from people saying “Argh my voice is gone but I have a huge session tomorrow with *insert dream client here*” or “I have to record my podcast tomorrow but I sound like Barry White (and not in the sexy way…) please help!”

Fear not. This guide is specifically here for those moments when you have to record but your voice deserts you. 

Side note disclaimer – if you’re experiencing any change in vocal quality for more than two weeks or so, and can’t be attributed to illness or overuse, then do seek some medical advice. 

Ok! On we go. 

Tip One: Try not to panic…

It’s nearly always the first response, but stress won’t help. Damn you, mind/body/voice holistic connection…. Instead, take a breath, notice what’s happening, ground yourself and make the right decisions to try and help. Which luckily I’m gonna outline for you now. What luck!

Contact whomever it is that may be relying on you to record and just make them aware of your situation. Most people are not horrible creatures, most situations can be tweaked a little. It’s not often that something can’t be moved. It’s good for your peace of mind to know that you’ve reached out and done the professional, responsible thing in letting them know. I mean jeepers, if Disney casts you in their next big film then they’re gonna want you in good vocal health, let’s be honest. But in all seriousness, you do have to let people know. Honesty is the best policy and it will help you stay rational about what’s happening. 

Tip two: Cancel any non-essential talking until this ‘big thing’ that you have to do.

Don’t even answer the phone, not even to show people how hoarse you are to get some sympathy… (Come on we’ve all done it!) Voice rest via stopping the literal act of talking is crucial here.

Tip 3. Up your fluids to make sure your body has enough to flush out whatever it needs to in terms of germs.

It’ll also rehydrate at the vocal folds at source a wee bit which will really help if your illness is cough or phlegm  related. Remember all fluids count towards systemic hydration (minus alcohol…) including water, tea, juices etc.., Little and often fluids throughout the day and you’re on to a winner.

I’ve got a whole podcast episode on hydration, so maybe check that out here if you need a few pointers. 

Tip number 4: If you’ve got one, get your nebuliser on the go!

Nebulisers use a 0.9% saline solution, which matches the fluid inside the body and they’re brilliant at hydrating at more of a superficial level on the outside of the vocal folds. If you don’t have a nebuliser then steaming is great too, just with plain water or a lovely steamy bath or shower would be nice.

Tip number 5: Stay away from anything that contains menthol.

The first thing people wanna do when they lose their voice is go and buy the local chemist out of lozenges… BUT although some lozenges will help the throat feel soothed, if you’ve lost your voice, they’re not actually gonna do anything because they don’t touch the vocal folds. If you do want something to suck on to stop a cough or relieve the throat then a simple glycerin pastille or good old fashioned wine gum work wonders. They will get the saliva going and taste nice. But definitely stay away from anything that contains menthol because it’s drying and won’t help.

Avoid pain killing sweets too. They’ll cause you’ll just feel like you’re better and then push through. If you’re in agony and you need them then fine, but only if you know you’re not gonna be doing any actual recording so there’s no risk of strain. Once they kick in however, beware of the ‘Oh I feel better I’ll just catch up with Auntie Val on the phone for 6 hours’… affect and refrain from talking until you’re actually better, not just when you can’t feel discomfort. .

My sixth tip when you’ve lost your voice is a few gentle exercises to encourage a bit of vocal rehab throughout the day.

Straw phonation really comes into its own here. I don’t know if you’ve seen anybody on Instagram or on YouTube making weird noises through a straw, but straw phonation belongs to the semi occluded vocal tract, group of exercises. So if you grab yourself a straw (reusable please of course, think of the turtles) and get a nice gentle buzzy hum sound going, then pop the straw in between your lips and glide around your range a bit. A gentle slide up and down a few notes is just enough to keep the vocal folds moving. If this feels like too much, just stop and try again later. 

If you don’t have a straw then a really nice puffy cheeked glide on a WUH sound can work well. If you were here, you’d see me looking very attractive with really big hamster puffy cheeks. My lips are slightly open and I’m just gliding up and down the vocal range ever so gently. 

Tip 7. Release exercises for the vocal tract.

This is the area from the vocal folds within the larynx to where the sound leaves the body at the mouth or the nose. A gentle yawns to release the constrictor muscles at the back of the throat, tongue stretches, jaw release. When we’re in pain we tend to brace ourselves or go tense which makes speaking even harder so your articulators might be feeling it a little. Here’s a few links of these on my YouTube channel.

Tip number 8: Remember the whole body approach.

Rest – like actual sleeping, you’re welcome. Good food, lots of fresh fruit, lots of vegetables, and self-care. If you do mindfulness or any of those meditative practices that can help settle things in your head a little bit if you are concerned, or anxious. Or a wee bit of gentle yoga or physical bodywork practices might be good too, particularly focusing on the shoulders and the neck and the spine, even a cheeky wee massage! 

A laryngeal massage is also a thing in voice rehab, but please don’t do it yourself following a video on YouTube. Seek out advice on whether it’s actually needed or maybe helpful in this instance, from a voice specialist clinic. 

Overall just get some rest. 

Let’s quickly review my 8 best tips for when you’ve lost your voice from the top… 

  1. Try not to panic 
  2. Tell the person you’re supposed to be recording for
  3. Cancel any non-essential talking
  4. Up your fluids and have a nebuliser on the go
  5. Stay away from any lozenges with menthol or painkillers
  6. Gentle straw phonation exercises or semi occluded vocal tract exercises
  7. Release exercises for the vocal tract eg tongue stretches, yawns, jaw release work
  8. Rest or do some yoga or stretching

There you go! A comprehensive guide to what to do when you lose your voice. 

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