Recovering from vocal cord surgery

This information applies if you are about to have, or have just had, an operation on your vocal cords.

To get the most benefit from the operation, you need to follow some guidance in the early stages immediately afterwards. It is important to prepare your family and friends for this before the operation.

Your ability to speak will be affected for the first few days while you recover from vocal cord surgery.

The information covers:

Complete voice rest for 3 days

For the first 3 days after the operation, we recommend that you do not speak or use your voice at all. This is to allow healing time for the surface of your vocal cord or cords around the site of the surgery.

During this time, you need to avoid:

You can communicate with your family and friends in other ways, such as:

  • writing notes
  • making signs or gestures with your hands
  • sending text messages or emails

Sometimes, your ear, nose and throat (ENT) surgeon may recommend up to 5 days of complete voice rest. For example, your vocal cords may need extra time to heal if we used more extensive methods of surgery.

You should be given clear guidance on longer periods of voice rest before or after your surgery. If you are not sure how long to rest your voice, always check with your ENT surgeon or speech and language therapist.

How to avoid irritating your vocal cords

It is common to feel that you have more mucus (a thick, slippery liquid) in your throat during the first week after vocal cord surgery. This is part of the healing process.

We have some guidance that you need to follow for at least the first 2 weeks after surgery. This guidance can help you to:

  • manage having too much mucus in your throat
  • ease any discomfort in your throat
  • reduce irritation of the vocal cords

Avoid alcohol and too much caffeine

You can eat and drink as usual after vocal cord surgery. However, it is best to avoid alcohol and more than a couple of drinks with caffeine in them (like coffee) each day. This is to avoid the effects of dehydration on the vocal cords.

Avoid smoking or vaping

We recommend that you avoid:

  • smoking
  • vaping (inhaling an aerosol or mist created by electronic cigarettes)
  • spending time in places where others are smoking or vaping

These activities are highly irritating to the vocal cords.

Drink plenty of water

Try to drink 8 glasses or about 2 litres of water a day to keep your voice box hydrated. 

Your mouth and throat might feel dry after vocal cord surgery. This is because of the anaesthetic (medicine to make you sleep during the operation) and the operation itself. Your symptoms should improve after a few days.

Inhale steam every day

It is helpful to breathe in (inhale) steam every day, particularly if your throat is dry, filled with mucus or uncomfortable.

  1. Fill a bowl with boiled water that has cooled a little.
  2. Put a towel over your head and the bowl.
  3. Close your eyes.
  4. Slowly lower your head towards the bowl until you are about 20 to 25cm (8 to 10 inches) away from the water.
  5. Breathe in the steam for 5 to 10 minutes.

Avoid scalding your skin when you inhale steam

Do not use water that has just boiled when you inhale steam or make any direct contact with the water. You need to keep your head a safe distance from the bowl. This is to avoid burning or scalding your skin.

Reduce acid reflux

Acid reflux is when acid in your stomach travels back up towards the throat. If you get acid reflux or indigestion, it is important to:

  • take your usual medicine
  • avoid foods that you know may trigger the condition, such as spicy foods, citrus fruits, fizzy drinks, onions and tomatoes

Avoid clearing your throat or coughing

As much as possible, it is best to avoid clearing your throat or coughing. This brings the vocal cords together forcefully and can damage them or prevent them from healing. 

Instead, if you have an urge to clear your throat or cough, you can try one of the following:

  • Swallow with or without water.
  • Give a short, sharp sniff (so that you hear noisy air), quickly followed by another one. Keep your shoulders relaxed and still.
  • Give a short, sharp sniff and then blow out gently through tightly pursed lips. Keep your shoulders relaxed and still.

Avoid heavy exercise and lifting

For a couple of weeks after your surgery, you need to avoid:

  • exercise that involves a lot of effort or energy
  • lifting any heavy objects

This is to prevent your vocal cords from closing forcefully while they heal from the surgery.

After your period of voice rest

In most cases, your voice may be hoarse (rough or strained) for a period after the surgery. This is to be expected during the healing process. Your speech and language therapist can explain more about this.

After your 3 days of complete voice rest, you can start talking at a comfortable pitch and volume. You get more detailed guidance from your speech and language therapist. They explain how often and how long you should speak in the first few weeks after surgery.

Here are some tips to protect your vocal cords:


  • do not push or strain to talk
  • do not try to shout or sing until your doctor or speech and language therapist tells you that this is safe

Voice therapy with a speech and language therapist

We recommend that you see a speech and language therapist who specialises in voice therapy at least once before your vocal cord surgery. They can then:

  • assess your voice
  • explain how your voice box (larynx) and vocal cords work
  • give you advice about what you can do to help your voice recover well after the surgery

It is a good idea to see your speech and language therapist for voice therapy sessions after the operation. The first appointment should usually take place 7 to 10 days after your surgery.

Your speech and language therapist can support you and recommend voice exercises while you recover. They give you personalised advice about when to start these exercises.

Here are some tips to make sure that you get the support you need:

  • If you have not yet told your speech and language therapist your surgery date, please do so immediately. They can then arrange the necessary appointments before and after your surgery.
  • If you have not seen a speech and language therapist before or after your surgery, you can contact our department for help.

Resource number: 1679/VER5
Last reviewed: March 2024
Next review due: March 2027

A list of sources is available on request.

Trusted Information Creator. Patient Information Forum

Contact us

If you have any questions or concerns about recovering from vocal cord surgery, please contact the speech and language department at Guy's Hospital.

Phone: 020 7188 6233, Monday to Friday, 9am to 5.30pm

If we do not answer your call, you can leave a voicemail message. Please tell us your contact details and why you called.

Email: [email protected]

We aim to respond to emails within 1 working day.

Pharmacy medicines helpline

If you have any questions or concerns about your medicines, please speak to the staff caring for you. 

You can also contact our pharmacy medicines helpline.

Phone: 020 7188 8748, Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm

Email: [email protected]

We aim to respond to emails within 2 working days.

Do you have any comments or concerns about your care?

Contact our Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS)

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