Losing your voice can be like losing an arm. Suddenly handicapped, you may find that getting through the day can be a mix of frantic gesturing and fumbling for pen and paper.
Voice loss can be brought on by lesions, polyps or other damage to the vocal cords, more accurately known as vocal folds. But even a simple cold virus can lead to voice loss.
"One very common thing is to hear patients come in when they've had a runny nose and all of a sudden, their voice is gone," said Dr. Ramon Franco, medical director of the Voice and Speech Lab at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary.
As a working professional singer in Boston, Jessica Cooper finds most of her gigs take place during the holidays between September and May -- the height of cold season.
"It's happened more than once," Cooper said of losing her voice. "One out of every three times I have a cold that happens."
Healthy vocal folds, located above the windpipe in the throat, need to be well lubricated and pliable in order to vibrate rapidly and close fully, producing the best sounds. Irritation and inflammation can stiffen the folds so that they do not vibrate as well or come together completely, producing a rough, breathy sound.
Any extra stress on the folds, from a viral infection, singing or eating the wrong foods, can lead to voice loss.
In December, Cooper had to forgo her first performance with the Boston Baroque choir, one of the most prestigious musical groups in the country, because she lost her voice after getting a cold.
"Usually I can sing through the first couple of days [of a cold]," Cooper said. But after two four-hour rehearsals, her soprano voice was in no condition to sing Handel's "Messiah."
"I couldn't sing at that level. There was no way my voice had the agility," Cooper said. "I couldn't just show up and open my mouth and pretend. … It was my first gig with them and I was upset."
Cooper said she tries to focus on cold prevention in order to avoid losing her voice.
If voice problems persist longer than two weeks after getting ill, doctors recommend getting checked out. But there are some home remedies rumored to help regain a lost voice before that happens. Some methods may help, some won't harm you and some should definitely be avoided.
Here are a few guidelines that might help you get back your lost voice.
There is nothing wrong with honey, but tea and lemon are both acidic, which poses a serious problem to anyone who wants their voice to return.
The vocal folds are made of delicate, epithelial tissue. Though food may not come in contact with them directly during food consumption (if it did, you would choke), acidic foods can trigger acid reflux, bathing the throat area in corrosive stomach acids.
"Spraying a little acid in the larynx has a lot more consequence than in the esophagus," Franco said.
And the vocal folds are already subject to chronic low levels of inflammation because of normal reflux events that occur up to 50 times during the day.
Tomatoes, citrus fruits and chocolate are some acidic foods to avoid to prevent reflux and further damage to the vocal folds.