Dr. Robert T. Sataloff, chairman of the otolaryngology department at Drexel University College of Medicine and a professional opera baritone wanted to do a study to determine the effect of whispering on vocal cords. He asked 100 subjects to count from 1 to 10 in a normal voice and then a whisper. While they counted, he observed their vocal cords with a fiber optic scope. In 69 out of the 100 subjects, there was more strain placed on the vocal cords. Those that placed more strain on their vocal cords were squeezing their vocal cords more tightly together to produce the whisper, which can be more traumatic than speaking in a normal voice, particularly when the vocal cords are already inflamed and irritated.
Think back to the last time that you felt hoarse or lost your voice due to laryngitis or a viral cold such as an upper respiratory infection. When you whispered, people may have had trouble understanding you, so you tried to force your voice – that thin, high-pitched, scratchy tone came out. Forcing your voice to be heard and articulated when it’s inflamed is the worst thing you can do. After all, you would rest a sprained ankle, wouldn’t you?
This is why you should rest your voice when you feel hoarse and avoid whispering. Whispering definitively places additional strain on your vocal cords, which can actually prolong the time that you are without your voice. Instead of whispering, try and rest your voice. Use a notepad or even your cell phone to communicate by writing messages or texting a colleague. You can also use inter-office messenger tools or email instead of speaking.
Whispering and hoarseness are two things that should never go hand in hand. If you are hoarse for more than a few days without improvement, definitely see your doctor decide if there is an underlying condition. If you have a condition or experienced trauma that is causing the hoarseness, you may benefit from seeing a Speech-Language Pathologist.