A common casualty of cold and flu season is our ability to speak. Many illnesses can cause sore throats, hoarseness, laryngitis, or difficulty speaking. Try these tips to take care of your voice.
• Don’t Talk!
If your voice is hoarse, one of the best things you can do for it is to give it a rest. Swelling or other changes to your vocal folds make them more vulnerable to damage. So only talk if you really need to, and keep the volume down.
• Don’t clear your throat
It’s tempting to try to clear your voice, but you can actually do more damage to your vocal folds this way. Try sipping water instead to keep your throat moist and to clear mucus.
• Drink plenty of water
Most doctors recommend at least 32 ounces (or 4 cups) of water a day, but many say 64 ounces is even better. Juices and herbal teas are okay, too. But stay away from drinks that contain caffeine, including coffee, black teas, and many sodas. Caffeine can actually dehydrate your tissues, so if you do drink a cup of coffee, refill the cup with water and drink that, too.
• Check the labels
Many over-the-counter medications work by drying up your cold or flu symptoms. These same medications may be making your hoarseness worse by drying your vocal folds. So use them carefully. Some pain relievers also contain caffeine, which can cause dryness. And alcoholic drinks can also dehydrate your body. So keep drinking water.
• Hydrate your throat
While your vocal folds are at higher risk, you can help protect them by keeping them moist. Gargling with warm salt water can help. Gently inhaling steam is also good for your throat and sinuses. To do this, boil plain water in a pot. Remove the pot from the stove and carefully lean over it to put your face in the steam. Don’t get to close to the water or you can scald your skin. Form a tent by placing a towel over your head to help keep the steam from dissipating.
• Add humidity
If you live in a dry climate, or if you are using a heater that dries the air, use a humidifier to put moisture back into the air. Doctors recommend that you keep your surroundings at 30 percent humidity or higher.
• Eat well
Eat plenty of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. These foods contain vitamins A, E, and C and can help keep the mucus membranes that line your throat healthy.
Most viral infections will resolve themselves within two weeks. If you are hoarse or have other voice changes lasting longer than two weeks, it’s time to see the doctor. Also check with your doctor if you have chronic pain after speaking.