Although your natural instinct may be to whisper when you have laryngitis, speech therapists believe you may actually be straining your vocal cords.

If you’ve ever suffered from laryngitis (swollen, irritated vocal cords in the larynx, perhaps better known as the voice box), your gut reaction might have been to assume that it’s okay to whisper until you get better.

That’s not true: Studies have shown that whispering might actually damage the larynx more than normal speech. Performers, singers and public speakers that need vocal rest are also discouraged from whispering so not to strain their pipes.

According to Karla O’Dell, MD, assistant professor of clinical otolaryngology and a laryngologist from the USC Voice Center at Keck Medicine of USC, “Whispering requires more effort than using our voice at a regular volume.”

When people try to talk through the hoarseness, they actually cause more damage. The vocal cords are two strips of muscles in the voice box that are covered by a lining. Air from the lungs causes a wave on the lining of these cords, which creates sound. Straining the folds — which can happen by attempting lower tones, or getting a cold or sinus infection — can cause irritation that results in hoarseness. Talking or whispering can aggravate the hoarseness. Irritants such as dust, dry air, drugs (especially antihistamines), caffeine, alcohol, cigarette smoke or food that causes allergic reaction can also wreak havoc on the cords.

So, now that whispering is out, what should you do if you get a hoarse voice?

  • The best cure for laryngitis is voice rest. As hard as if may sound, shutting your mouth for at least three days will do wonders for your vocal cords. You should also avoid hard coughing, crying and clearing your throat.
  • Drink lots of liquids. Water is especially crucial if you are traveling while suffering from laryngitis. If you drink eight 8-ounce glasses of liquid a day, you’re doing both your cords and your body a favor.
  • Avoid noisy environments like rock concerts or bars, since you’ll be forced to speak over the background noise.
  • If you’re speaking to a large group, use microphones and loudspeakers so you can speak as close to your normal talking voice and pitch as possible.
  • Speech pathologists also recommend using a strong, steady current of air when you deliver a speech. Breath from the diaphragm and keep your neck muscles relaxed while you speak. Try to let your volume increase gradually, instead of starting out on the highest volume.

It’s also important to remember that laryngitis can be the result of other illnesses. Continuing to irritate damaged vocal folds can create hard bumps or nodules that can harden and may need surgery if they go untreated. Be sure to tell your physician if your throat is sore, if you experience other symptoms, and if the laryngitis doesn’t get better after a few days of rest.

If you’re in the Southern California area and are in search of a primary care physician, call (800)USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or visit www.keckmedicine.org/request-an-appointment to schedule an appointment.

By Ramin Zahed