You’ve likely either just undergone surgery for your voice, or have experienced some very heavy voice use with damage to the vocal folds. Either way, you’ve been advised to give your voice a rest.
Voice rest, whether partial or complete, is a time of introspection and delegation. It is surprising how much we use the vocal folds each day, and how difficult it can be to not make use of them. You’ve been asked to rest your voice to allow them to heal. This includes speaking, but also other sounds made by your vocal folds such as coughing, clearing your throat, heavy sneezing, grunts, ‘uh-huhs’, etc. Whenever sound is made from your vocal folds, there is contact force as they vibrate against each other. Too much, or the wrong kind of vibration causes damage to the tissues, and can interfere with proper healing. If sneezing is unavoidable, it should be done with the mouth open. Coughing may be necessary if it produces yellow, green, or brown thick mucus from an infection, and should be treated by your doctor. Heavy lifting with a grunt should also be avoided.
Partial Voice Rest: This is a way to reduce your total voice use. It is important not to raise your voice, yell, or scream. Speaking in a quiet “confidential” manner is recommended. Whispering is not good because it usually results in vocal strain as you try to make your whisper loud enough to be heard. You will just end up learning how to speak in a tight manner. Cut out unnecessary voice use. “Mouth words” (without producing any sound) such as “hello” and “thank you,” particularly in loud public places such as restaurants. Screen telephone calls to only those that are necessary, and limit these to 5 minutes. It is important to recognize your limitations, and to stop at the first sign of vocal strain, fatigue, or pain. This is an opportunity to delegate presentations and interactions, allowing yourself to act as the “final word.”
Complete (strict) Voice Rest: This means avoiding all sounds made from your mouth. You may find that people speak louder or slower to you, as if you have trouble understanding. Carry an index that says, “I injured my vocal cords and should not speak.” Carry a pad and pen wherever you go. If errands are necessary, then writing a legible note in advance will help you communicate easier. Do not clear your throat – swallow hard instead.
Voice Recovery: The length of voice rest and the rate of slowly starting to use your voice again depend on the extent and nature of your surgery. You will be seen for a follow-up visit usually within a week after surgery. At that point you may be asked to gradually increase your voice use over 1-2 weeks. Exercises may be provided to help reduce swelling and scarring. These should be done as directed as this recovery time is crucial for how the vocal folds will heal. It is important that you not resume those activities that may have caused your initial problem, and that you follow the doctor’s orders regarding medications. If you have any concerns, give us a call.
Eugen Grabscheid MD Voice Center
Department of Otolaryngology –
Head & Neck Surgery
5 East 98th Street
New York NY 10029