I lost my voice this week. Like, properly lost it. Ironic, if you consider that I used to specialise in voice disorders.
Funny, if you're my kids. Not funny when your job relies on your voice. I didn't realise how exhausting it is not having your voice, never having lost it before.
Every year 60% teachers experience difficulties with their voice, according to the NUT, at a cost of £15m a year.
You can't avoid getting viruses at this time of the year, especially when your job is based within sneezing distance of young children's faces. But, to recover your voice quickly? Well, you might want to pay attention to these tips below, because if you don't, you'll end up with longer-term voice difficulties.
I know that it might seem that losing your voice is an occupational hazard when working with your voice (teachers, preachers and screechers) but if you are losing it on a recurrent basis (or for longer than 10 days in a row) then ask your GP for a referral to ENT to rule out anything untoward, like vocal nodules. They can then refer you onwards to SLT who can give your exercises to recover and maintain good vocal hygiene.
But if it's a one-off throat infection or virus like mine, then these tips will help you get your voice back again.
1) Don't push or force your voice. This includes whispering. This is really important. You may think that this is impossible, but if you force your vocal chords when they are swollen then you will sustain long-term damage. So, if you need to get the attention of your class, put something up on the board to say you won't be raising your voice today, agree with them the non-verbal way you are going to get their attention, enlist the help of the child least-likely to respond to a non-verbal means of getting attention to be your attention-getter (because they are often the noisiest, so give them that role!)
Consider using a voice amplifier. I know, it looks naff, but you're protecting your voice, so get over it. And plan to give the children more speaking roles in today's classes. Or cancel your class - I had to do this this week, myself. It's actually very difficult to listen to someone with a husky voice so your teaching won't be as effective as your usual inspiring and energetic self.
2) Be well hydrated. Drink lots of water, and aim to sip water instead of coughing to clear your throat. If you can't help coughing that's one thing, but if you're constantly clearing your throat then stop. You can't clear swollen-ness and it makes your vocal folds more swollen.
Avoid alcohol (I know you don't sip from a hip flask in class, but that large glass of wine you use as a relaxant at the end of the day? R-E-S-I-S-T. It'll seriously aggravate your vocal folds. Drink water instead - preferably just cooler than boiling, and give the steam a whiff on the way down. Avoid caffeine and milk - dehydrating and mucous-inducing in that order.
3) Keep your throat warm - use a scarf or polo-neck jumper. And try to breathe through your nose so you filter and warm the air you're breathing in.
4) Avoid pain-killers like throat lozenges. All they do is mask the strain you are putting on your voice and so you do more damage.
5) Have voice rest. No Whitney Houston impressions in the shower or on your commute to work in the car, no yelling across the playground when some kid drops litter, no long conversations on the phone to your mother in the evening. Your vocal folds are swollen and need to rest.
6) Don't be a martyr. Seriously. Your voice is your tool. You need it so that you can work well into your 60's (sorry to depress you there!) It's definitely in your head teacher's interest to be flexible when you have a sore throat (e.g. giving you non-contact time over teaching) for one week, than to risk you not being able to teach for much longer. I have seen teachers for voice therapy who had been off for 12 months, so in the grand scheme of things, a week doesn't seem so bad.
NB These tips are for recovering your voice after a throat infection or virus, but please know that voice problems can be linked to stress or physical difficulties such as vocal nodules. So, if your voice is always the first thing to go when you are ill, then ask to be referred to ENT just to get things checked over. And, if you are looking for ideas as to how to project your voice on a regular basis, contact me and I'll see if I can help.