Our voice is our primary way of communicating with others, one that many of us rely on daily without a second thought. Whether we are talking on the phone at work, presenting in team meetings, or engaging with our family at dinner time, voice changes can create a significant barrier to connection with others. While most of us rarely lose our voice, if it’s a frequent occurrence, it may be time to visit your local ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist. Let’s take a look at 4 common and 4 serious medical conditions and/or reasons that cause voice changes.
4 Common Reasons You’ve Lost Your Voice
When it comes to voice loss, there are common conditions that cause inflammation, irritation, and swelling in the vocal cords and larynx (voice box).
- Acute Laryngitis. Many individuals experience laryngitis when they get ill with a viral infection like the common cold, influenza, and acute bronchitis. The loss of voice or hoarseness occurs suddenly and is caused by swelling of the vocal cords. When they swell, they cannot vibrate normally leading to hoarseness and sometimes whisper-like sounds. During episodes of acute laryngitis, you can damage your vocal cords if you use your voice too much.
- Chronic Laryngitis. The most common reasons for recurrent laryngitis is due to acid reflux disease, smoking, and low-grade infections (yeast) from using steroid inhalers. If you are in an environment where there are a lot of irritating substances in the air, you’re more likely to experience chronic laryngitis.
- Laryngopharyngeal Reflux Disease. If you get a lot of stomach and esophageal reflux (acid reflux), this can cause many problems for the throat. You may experience chronic or intermittent hoarseness, swallowing issues, throat pain, cough, throat clearing, or a “lump in the throat” sensation. It may or may not be accompanied by heartburn or regurgitation.
- Voice Misuse/Overuse. While speaking is second nature to us and seems really simple to do, it uses a lot of different muscle groups, which can be affected negatively if used improperly. Things like talking for extended periods of time, yelling excessively, speaking loudly in noisy situations, or using a pitch that is too high or too low can result in vocal misuse or overuse. You may also be at risk for developing benign vocal cord lesions.
Are There Serious Medical Conditions to Worry About?
YYes, there are 4 serious medical conditions to watch out for that are associated with losing one’s voice.
- Benign Vocal Cord Lesions. These are non-cancerous growths that occur on the vocal cords due to misuse or overuse. They alter vocal cord vibration and lead to hoarseness, and often show up either as nodules, polyps, or cysts. Voice therapy, and microsurgery are used to treat and cure the issue.
- Vocal Cord Hemorrhage. If you suddenly lose your voice after shouting, yelling, or taking on strenuous vocal tasks, you may have vocal cord hemorrhage. This occurs when a blood vessel on the surface of one of your vocal cords ruptures causing the soft tissue to fill with blood.
- Vocal Cord Paralysis/Paresis. If there are problems with the nerves or muscles within the larynx (voice box), you may experience paralysis or weakness in one or both of your vocal cords. Look out for a weak breathy voice sometimes with noisy breathing or shortness of breath. This can occur with neck surgery or chest surgery or sometimes from a tumor pushing on the vocal cord nerves. It is important to figure out why the vocal cord is weak or paralyzed since the underlying medical issue may be serious. This is sometimes treated with vocal cord injections or voicebox surgery.
- Laryngeal Cancer. If you are suffering from chronic hoarseness, it requires an ENT evaluation as it may be due to laryngeal cancer. Risk factors for laryngeal cancer include smoking, alcohol, GERD, or a history of HPV infection. Laryngeal cancer is a very serious condition that requires immediate medical attention. In the early stages, laryngeal cancer is highly curable, so make sure you are listening to your voice for any changes.
Is There a Way to Prevent Voice Loss?
To help you prevent voice loss, avoid putting strain on your vocal cords or lowering your immune system. For instance, avoid whispering, and clearing your throat too much to reduce vocal cord strain, and refrain from smoking or drinking alcohol as this lowers your immune response. If you lose your voice and it does not return within a week, schedule an evaluation with one of our ENT specialists or give us a call at: (407) 677-0099.