How to treat losing your voice

Lost your voice? Don’t panic

Teaching is very hard on the voice, but teaching online is doubly so. When we are trying to engage someone over Zoom, this actually requires requires a coordinated effort from the lungs, vocal cords, throat, and mouth. Chatting with our students involves the use of muscles, which can become strained or fatigued with prolonged use. Speaking too loudly, for too long, or without proper breath support can lead to vocal fatigue and even injury, such as vocal nodules or polyps.

To prevent strain and damage to the vocal cords, it is important to practice good vocal hygiene by staying hydrated, avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, speaking in a comfortable pitch and volume, and taking breaks when needed. Also, consider investing in your career and dropping some money on Voice training classes. These exercises and working with a speech therapist can really improve vocal health and prevent long-term damage.

Keeping a healthy throat: Top tips

Don’t whisper

If you lose your voice, don’t whisper.

Whispering can be bad for your voice because it places a great deal of strain on the vocal cords. When you whisper, you are forcing air through the vocal cords without them coming together as they do in normal speech. This causes the vocal cords to vibrate more forcefully and can lead to vocal fatigue and strain.

In addition to placing strain on the vocal cords, whispering can also dry out the throat and vocal cords, making it more difficult to speak clearly and causing further irritation and inflammation. Whispering for extended periods of time, such as during a lecture or presentation, can be particularly damaging to the voice and can lead to long-term vocal issues, such as vocal nodules or polyps.

If you are experiencing voice issues or a sore throat, it is recommended to avoid whispering and instead, speak in a comfortable pitch and volume with proper breath support. Resting the voice and staying hydrated can also help to alleviate symptoms and promote vocal health. If your symptoms persist or worsen, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Whispering causes more vocal strain than speaking, though It is best to stop speaking completely.

Staying hydrated can help to get your voice back by keeping the vocal cords and surrounding tissues moist and lubricated. When the throat and vocal cords are dehydrated, the tissues can become dry and irritated, making it more difficult to speak or sing clearly.

Drinking plenty of fluids, particularly water, can help to keep the vocal cords and throat hydrated, which can reduce irritation and inflammation and improve voice quality. In addition, staying hydrated can help to thin out mucus and other secretions that may be contributing to vocal issues, making it easier to speak and sing.

Stop drinking coffee

I know. This one is a killer. But you have to put down the coffee, no matter how much energy it gives you while teaching. Caffeine, alcohol, and sugary drinks, can actually have a dehydrating effect and should be consumed in moderation or avoided altogether. To ensure proper hydration, it is recommended to drink at least 8-10 glasses of water per day and adjust this amount based on individual needs and activity level.

Take a break

Taking a break can help a sore throat because it allows the vocal cords and other tissues in the throat to rest and recover. Overuse of the voice, such as talking or singing loudly or for extended periods of time, can cause strain and inflammation in the vocal cords and surrounding tissues, leading to a sore throat.

By taking a break from speaking, singing, or other activities that may strain the voice, you give the affected tissues a chance to heal and reduce inflammation. This can help to alleviate the pain and discomfort associated with a sore throat and allow for a faster recovery.


Gargling can also help to reduce the amount of harmful bacteria and viruses in the throat, which can potentially lead to an infection. By flushing out these microorganisms, gargling can help to reduce the severity and duration of a sore throat and other related symptoms.

*It is important to note that none of these tips should be considered a substitute for medical treatment if you are experiencing severe or persistent symptoms, such as difficulty swallowing or breathing, high fever, or other signs of a serious infection. If you are concerned about your symptoms, you should consult with a healthcare professional for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Teaching ESL online is a profession that relies on your voice. To keep young language learners engaged in the lesson, we often sing and modulate our voices: we whisper, cheer, roar, and mew to teach animal names. All of this causes voice strain.

On top of that, a cold that causes a sore throat or causes you to lose your voice for days is a true disaster. Since companies aren’t forgiving about cancellations, taking days off is very stressful. So following some preventative tips to keep your throat healthy and your voice strong, is really worth it.

How to get your voice back when you have bronchitis

One of the most persistent problems I had while teaching online was developing bronchitis and losing my voice. Every time I caught a cold, I would lose my voice. This happened a few times a year. My canceled classes were always forgiven with medical notes, but it was an anxious experience nonetheless.

How can you get your voice back? 

I learned some tips throughout the years to treat a lost voice.

Tips for getting your voice back after a cold

Don’t whisper. First, it is counterintuitive, but do not whisper.

Rest your voice. This is self-explanatory but easier said than done. Cancel your classes early and give yourself a long break. Otherwise, you drag out the illness.

Breathe moist air. Loosen mucus by running yourself a steamy bath or shower or getting a humidifier. At the minimum, consider just putting pots filled with water by your bed or by a heater so they evaporate. 

Avoid decongestants. They will dry you out. 

Drink warm liquids. Sip some tea or warm broth. Avoid caffeinated drinks. Check that the tea isn’t caffeinated. Unless, of course, you are dependent on caffeine. I am addicted to coffee and always get horrific migraines if I stop drinking coffee because I am sick, so I cut down considerably. Cut down your caffeine intake or taper down. This might be a great time to kick start a new, healthier life. Tapering down your caffeine intake can be the beginning of quitting coffee forged. Consider switching to Ginseng tea. I did this years ago, and it was fantastic. I fell off the bandwagon because coffee is available everywhere, and ginseng isn’t, but I regret it.

Gargle saltwater. Use over-the-counter pain relievers.

Ultimately, you need to protect your voice moving forward before you lose it.

At one point, I developed chronic bronchitis. A medicine called Bronchovaxom helped. It was a medicine to boost the immune system against respiratory infections. It worked very well. It is also called OM-85. It is taken orally. It consists of an extract of eight different bacteria involved in respiratory infections. The production of antibodies in the respiratory system can be divided into five stages, starting at the digestive level, where the process of activating the immune system begins.

Singers have these problems too

How Singers Protect Their Voice

The same techniques that protect a singer’s voice can protect your voice too.

Lots of ESL teachers sing and modulate their voices. They talk for hours straight. Protecting your voice is paramount.

 First, make sure you are speaking correctly. Avoid using the extremes of your vocal range, such as screaming or whispering. However, speaking loudly sometimes and quietly to others is also a great teaching technique. So, just be sure you are using these voice modulations for maximum effect. Don’t use them unless they serve a real purpose to the lesson.

Breathing Techniques to Protect Your Voice

An underappreciated part of teaching online and protecting your voice is practicing good breathing techniques when singing or talking. Use supporting breath while speaking.

  • deep breaths from the chest
  • don’t rely on your throat alone

Practice Exercises for Breath Control

  1. Breathe deeply from your lower lungs by imagining a rubber ring around your waist (your diaphragm)
  2. Breathe in and try to push the ring outwards.
  3. Breathe in through your nose and out through your nose and mouth.
  4. Keep your shoulders relaxed. Don’t raise your shoulders as you breathe in.
  5. Relax

There are many Health Concerns for Online Teachers

Losing your voice

Symptoms of losing your voice include:

Laryngitis signs and symptoms can include:

  • Hoarseness
  • Weak voice or voice loss
  • Tickling sensation and rawness in your throat
  • Sore throat
  • Dry throat
  • Dry cough

Finger or wrist pain

Symptoms of hand pain include:

  • Trouble gripping objects with the hand(s)
  • Pain or numbness in hand (s)
  • “Pins and needles” feeling in the fingers
  • Swollen feeling in the fingers.
  • Burning or tingling in the fingers, especially the thumb and the index and middle fingers.

Back pain from sitting

Symptoms of back pain include:

  • muscle aching
  • shooting, burning or stabbing sensation
  • the pain may radiate down your leg or worsen with bending, twisting, lifting, standing or walking.

Eye strain from computer use

Symptoms of eye strain include:

Eyestrain signs and symptoms include:

  • Sore, tired, burning or itching eyes.
  • Watery or dry eyes.
  • Blurred or double vision.
  • Headache.
  • Sore neck, shoulders, or back.
  • Increased sensitivity to light.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Feeling that you cannot keep your eyes open.

Sleep Dysregulation

If you are teaching might time classes in order to cater to students in other countries at another timezone, then you might experience some serious sleep dysregulation. 

Symptoms of sleep dysregulation include:

  • The timing of sleep will be abnormal from the usual patterns
  • the time of your peak alertness might differ from your usual time of alertness
  • Core body temperature might be different from usual
  • hormonal levels will be affected
  • People with sleep dysregulation often fall asleep hours after midnight and struggle to wake up in the morning.

Happy Teaching!

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Ingrid Maria Pimsner, MA, BA, TEFL
Ingrid Maria Pimsner, MA, BA, TEFL

Ingrid Maria Pimsner has been teaching for over a decade in various universities, nonprofits, and private academies. She has taught English as a Second Language for Lutheran Children & Family Service, Nationalities Service Center, Lernstudio Barbarossa Berlin-Tegel, and more. In addition to her Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) Certification, she holds a BA from the University of Pennsylvania and a MA from Maryland Institute College of Art.