Do you have hoarseness or laryngitis?

When we speak, two membranes, the vocal cords, vibrate to make sound. Hoarseness indicates these cords are malfunctioning either from swelling after yelling at the football game, or infection, or excess smoking or something interfering with this movement.

At the start of hoarseness DO NOT GARGLE. This is like rubbing your eyes when they are inflamed. Reduce your talking, stay off the phone. Coughing makes hoarseness much worse. Steam is good – boil water, stick out your tongue and breathe the steam. Drink warm liquids – more is better, but not boiling hot. Avoid ice. Papain/ bromelain enzyme tablets, dissolved in the mouth between the cheek and gums, are very effective. This is especially useful if the pain follows flying or scuba diving. It is very important to look for a) a combination of papain and bromelain, and b) a calibrated enzyme activity of one million units of bromelain from pineapple and a half million units of papain from papaya. (Be careful of using enzyme tablets which do not list the enzyme activity – you can’t be sure if you’re getting the right amount, and most have insignificant activity.)

Hoarseness develops because the cold or sore throat gets to the larynx and causes the vocal cords to swell. It gets worse because we try to speak in spite of the swelling, or if people speak incorrectly. The more relaxed your neck muscles, the less chance for hoarseness. Frequent hoarseness may be caused by tight neck muscles. Make sure your head is not turned when you talk. Speaking from bed may be a factor. I have my singers do an exercise in the shower: with the water directed onto back of the neck, gently turn the neck, as if to see who is standing behind you. Alternate sides and continue for 3 minutes. If performed daily, this will help to keep these muscles relaxed.

Teachers frequently get hoarse. When the teacher lives next door to the school, no laryngitis. When he or she commutes far from home every day, they often get laryngitis. Why? When they have a long commute, there is more stress, in addition to speaking loudly more often than most people, hence more laryngitis.

It is important to reduce talking early when symptoms of laryngitis begin. Don’t be a hero and talk over interfering background noises. If your problems do not clear up in a week, or if there is blood in your throat, you must be examined by a doctor. Also see Relaxation Exercises.