Dear Dr. Jahn,
After I’ve had a cold or cough, once the congestion and coughing are completely gone, how much longer should it take for my voice to go back to normal, provided that I’m not singing/resting? What If I AM singing?
In general, once your symptoms are fully gone, you should be back to normal singing within 5-7 days.
However, this is not always so, and you need to consider several aspects of your sickness and your vocal behavior.
If your infection was accompanied by a great deal of coughing or throat pain, this may have resulted in some residual swelling of the vocal folds, which will become apparent if you try to sing in your falsetto and softly.
Coughing also causes the larynx to rise in the neck, and in this higher laryngeal position it may be difficult to smoothly negotiate the mix.
The main problem really is trying to get back to normal too early.
By forcing the mechanism to produce a sound that you recognize as normal, you may be engaging excessive muscle effort.
This increases tension in the larynx and the pharynx and can lead to a new and forced type of phonation that is harmful, and in fact unnecessary once the cold is gone.
Approach your cold with three ideas: first, do whatever you can to hasten its progress and resolution, while minimizing voice use.
Let your body deal with the infection, with, of course your additional measures of Vitamin C, zinc, and other remedies that you have found helpful.
Second, if you do need to perform with a cold, dramatically alter your expectations of yourself, and be conscious of which additional mechanisms you have temporarily engaged to get through the performance.
Finally, once the cold is over, revert to your normal good technique- if it doesn’t return spontaneously, vocalize a bit more, go back to your teacher for a one lesson check-up and brush-up.
If with all of this, your voice continues to be hoarse, consider a medical examination of your larynx.
-Anthony F. Jahn, MD
Dr. Jahn welcomes your questions. You can send these to email@example.com
This discussion is for general information and not to be construed as specific medical advice that you should obtain from your own physician.