Ask Dr. Jahn – Emergency Remedies

Dear Dr Jahn,

Do you have any suggestions for emergency mode remedies to get a lost voice back due to sickness for a performance?

Sarah S.


Dear Sarah,

The answer to your question really depends on what the cause of your hoarseness  is. If you are hoarse because you have had a  vocal fold hemorrhage, for example, then the only reasonable treatment is voice rest. Similarly if you have an infection and your hoarseness is accompanied by coughing, congestion and possibly a fever, you need to get well rather than get on stage.

But let’s assume that you were referring to the more common situation where you may have strained your voice and over sung. Typically, this sort of hoarseness manifests in the upper range and leaves you unable to hit certain notes, or to sing or attack softly in head voice.

There are a number of treatments for this, and every singer has their own version, just was every doctor has their secret concoction. You might want to read my chapter on Home Remedies  in “ The Singer’s  Guide to Complete  Health”, for suggestions on what you can do for yourself.

I generally treat such cases only after an examination, to make sure that I’m not missing anything potentially serious. The treatment could include a small amount of prednisone, or an inhalation of steam or vaporized or nebulized medication. There are various concoctions which will decongest the vocal folds and reduce edema, and most of them are helpful in the short term.

The main issue here, and one that I feel strongly about, has to do with treating a chronically hoarse voice  “just to get through the next show”. This amounts to kicking the can down the road without addressing the underlying problem, whether it be lack of technique, inappropriate repertoire, excessive rehearsals and social voice activity, or other conditions. There are doctors everywhere who treats such singers with cortisone, giving little thought to what might happen the following week, when the next rehearsal or performance comes or, more importantly, what might happen to the singer’s vocal longevity.

For this reason, I would make the following suggestion. If you frequently find yourself in the position  where you tend to be hoarse and need to sing, and have become dependent on shots and medications to get from one show it to the next, take a step back and examine what you may be doing to have put yourself in this situation.

Dr. Jahn

Anthony Jahn, M.D.

Anthony Jahn M.D., noted author and professor of clinical otolaryngology at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, has offices in New York and New Jersey and is a noted author of The Care of the Professional Voice.