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Loss of Voice
(Aphonia; Partial Loss of Voice; Voice, Loss of; Voice; Partial Loss of)
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Conditions that affect the vocal cords or airway. This may involve injury, swelling, or disease, such as:
- Laryngitis caused by a viral, bacterial, or fungal infection
- Vocal abuse—yelling or talking excessively
- Exposure to airborne irritants, such as smoke or air pollution
- Acid reflux such as heartburn
- Thickening of the vocal chords
- Nodules or polyps on the vocal chords
- Muscle tension dysphonia
- Damage to the nerves that affect how the larynx functions
- Laryngeal or thyroid cancer
- Removal of larynx due to cancer
- Breathing problems that affect the ability to speak
- Neurological disorders such as myasthenia gravis, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
- Psychological conditions such as hysterical aphonia
- Overusing your voice such as speaking until you are hoarse
- Behaviors that abuse your vocal chords, such as smoking, which also puts you at a higher risk for cancer of the larynx
- Having surgery on or around the larynx
- Inability to speak or inability to speak above a whisper
- Spasm of vocal cords
- Throat pain
- Difficulty swallowing—food or fluids may go into the lungs
When Should I Call My Doctor?
- Hoarseness that is not getting better after two weeks
- Complete loss of voice that lasts more than a few days
- Hard, swollen lymph nodes
- Difficulty swallowing
- Cough up blood
- A lump in your throat
- Severe throat pain
- Unexplained weight loss
When Should I Call for Medical Help Right Away?
- Suddenly lose your ability to speak—This may be a sign of a head injury or a stroke.
- Are having trouble breathing
- Rest your voice.
- Avoid smoking.
- Stay hydrated.
- Use a cool mist humidifier.
- Take over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen.
- Participating in voice therapy if your loss of voice is due to voice overuse
- Taking medication to control acid reflux
- Having surgery to remove growths
- If you smoke, talk to your doctor about ways to quit.
- If you drink, limit your intake.
- Limit your exposure to fumes and toxins.
- Avoid talking a lot or yelling.
- Avoid whispering.
- Learn vocal techniques from a voice therapist if you have to speak a lot for your job.
- Get treatment for conditions that may cause loss of voice.
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association http://www.asha.org
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders http://www.nidcd.nih.gov
Ontario Association of Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists http://www.osla.on.ca
Speech-Language and Audiology Canada http://www.caslpa.ca
Acute laryngitis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated April 17, 2014. Accessed August 21, 2014.
Casthely PA, Labagnara J. Hoarseness and vocal cord paralysis following coronary artery bypass surgery. J Cardiothorac Vasc Anesth. 1992;6:263-264.
Fact sheet: common problems that can affect your voice. American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery website. Available at: http://www.entnet.org/HealthInformation/commonvoiceproblems.cfm. Accessed August 21, 2014.
Hoarseness or loss of voice. The Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide website. Available at: http://www.health.harvard.edu/fhg/symptoms/hoarseness/hoarseness1.shtml?Back=Back. Accessed August 21, 2014.
Maniecka-Aleksandrowicz B, Domeracka-Kolodziej A, et al. Management and therapy in functional aphonia. Otolaryngol Pol. 2006;60:191-197.
Sancho JJ. Pascual-Damieta M, et al. Risk factors for transient vocal cord palsy after thyroidectomy. Br J Surg. 2008;95:961-967.
Vocal nodule. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated December 20, 2012. Accessed August 21, 2014.
- Reviewer: Rimas Lukas, MD
- Review Date: 08/2014
- Update Date: 08/21/2014