Dear Doctor Jahn,
I am a teacher and singer – as a result I don’t have much chance to rest my voice. 2 months ago I had a cold, lost my voice and since then have found that both my speaking and singing voice have not recovered their full strength. Talking for too long is uncomfortable. I have seen a local GP and he advises nothing is wrong and that I should rest. It’s impossible for me to not speak for more than a few days at the moment. How do I get back my voice?
There could be several reasons for your situation. I am assuming your cold and its symptoms have completely resolved and you are back to full health again. One possibility is that during your cold, between coughing and either vocal rest or abnormally strained voice use, you have changed how you phonate. If your larynx is high and you are phonating with excessive laryngeal tension, you may experience discomfort after singing, as well as a weaker and more strained voice. This latter symptom often occurs when the larynx is elevated and the resonating compartments above the larynx are abnormally constricted. If you have any residual pulmonary issues, you may not be breathing freely, and not supporting the voice adequately.
If you are generally more fatigued, I would suggest a test for infection mono (Epstein-Barr virus), which can leave you with general weakness for months.
Finally, it is possible that the virus has weakened one of the nerves going to the larynx. This would make it difficult to close the vocal folds and lead to excessive (and suboptimally efficient) efforts at vocalizing. One particular form of nerve weakness (superior laryngeal nerve palsy) affects the head voice preferentially, and will leave you with an intact chest voice but problems above the mix. My suggestion, after reviewing the above list, is that you consult and otolaryngologist for a specialist’s expert opinion.
-Anthony F. Jahn, MD, FACS, FRCS(C)
This discussion is for general information and not to be construed as specific medical advice that you should obtain from your own physician.
Dr. Jahn is an internationally renowned otolaryngologist based in Manhattan with a sub-specialty interest in the professional voice. His practice includes classical and popular singers. He holds academic appointments at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Westminster Choir College in Princeton. He is Medical Director at Jazz at Lincoln Center, and former Director of Medical Services at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Dr. Jahn has published several books for vocalists, including “Vocal Heath for Singers” (Singdaptive) and “The Singer’s Guide to Complete Health” (Oxford University Press).